A while back we wrote a few posts comparing law school to med school and noticing how they are in many ways similar but in some ways different.

Today I want to roll back the clock a half a decade (it sounds longer than 5 years if I say it like that) as a framework to talking about the differences between law school and med school.

Recently I read a few articles about how people go to law school for a lot of really bad reasons and how law students have much stronger regrets about their graduate education than others.  Part of this is no doubt due to the fact that the vast vast majority of students earn significantly less than they thought they would when they went into law school (Note:  As we have talked about before, if you did a modal 10K range, it would be 45K-55K). 

The study I was reading mentioned two large factors that they blamed for this other than inflated income expectations (perhaps more accurately, the article noted to factors that make not earning what people thought they would earn different for a law student than for every business graduate from an average school).  The first factor it mentions is that a lot of students go into law school because they don’t have any particular skills, consider themselves smart, and think law school is a good way for a smart person to make a living.

In some ways, there might be some truth to this, just with a much bigger adjustment to what defines “a living.”  If you are somebody that does well in liberal arts classes that are not stats based, odds are your “smarts” come in the form of reading, writing, and talking.  These skills could make you a gifted manager in a corporation one day (depending on your overall ability to get things done/manage people) but that would require an unclear path and some luck, not to mention a “low” starting salary.  No no, if you consider youself “smart” (remember this is a realative term, over a quarter of my high school was on some honor roll and considered themselves smart) then law seems like an appealing fallback.  For these people, I’ll just say that law school is tough and from what I can tell, practicing law is definately not a cakewalk.  There is “smart” relative to the population and there is “Smart” relative to law school applicants and the bar for the second is higher (the same holds true for any graduate school).

The second “all too common norm” in the article was a path that combines the two topics of this board:  A student wants to go to medical school and either can’t hack it in undergrad science, can’t get the MCAT, or realizes they don’t like the site of blood and decides they now want to go to law school.  I know a couple of people like this.  I’ve thought about this for a while and I must say, if I was an admissions rep, I would take this as a HUGE sign that this person is going to law school or all the wrong reasons. 

Not to sound judgmental (although I am judgmental) but if you say you “discovered a love for the law” in the middle of college, you are so full of fertilizer that its coming out of your ears.  Look, law and med school take two completely opposite types of people.  The only thing these folks have in common (on the whole) is that they both do really well on standardized tests.  If you were pre med and ended up pre law, you either 1. think you are entitled/should/need to make a lot of money/have a prestiege job and as a result took what you thought (wrongly) was the next best path or 2. Have parents telling you these are the only two acceptable jobs.  This is complicated by the fact that just getting into ANY med school is hard but if you are willing to pay 30-40K and are dumb enough to believe that it doesnt matter where you go, then there is certainly a law school that will take you.  Either way, you are a fool for making this decision.  If you “I’m not either of those” then I refuse to believe you, you are in the first group and in denial.  The only people I believe are the ones that are actually MD/JD’s.  These people were able to hack it in med school and still moved onto law school.  If you have the skills for both, be realistic, you’re going to elect to be a doctor (or at least go to med school and then change later).

How can I be so sure of this?  How can I so strongly assert that these are polar opposite skills/personality types?  For starters, because I’m opinionated and a post full of hedging doesn’t make for a good blog.  More importantly, I’m thinking back among all of the now law students or doctors I know (by the way, I cannot think of a single person that I graduated with in high school that is now a law student, if any of you can, please IM me).  From here out, I’m going to focus on myself and Kurzman because its easier than generalizing and the specifics definately hold true. 

Med School types (at least the ones that are going to be successful) like answers.  They know answers, they know how to get answers, and they can think logically to other anwsers.  “Now Clegal, isn’t all school about knowing answers?”  Why yes, but there are different types of answers. 

Guys like Kurzman learn the facts, the verifiable, one right way, answers.  “What is the shape of this molecule.”  “How do you calculate the relative speed of this reaction?” “Is this a one way or two way reaction?”  “Integrate this multivariable equation.”  These are the things guys like Kurzman can do, and they can do them very well.  Not only that, but they can think from one situation to another to use the answers they know to figure out new answers.  “Given what you know about covalent bonds, what will this look like?”  Even their “BS” questions are tricky, usually have objectively right or logical answers and can be verified “if thats the case, why does hydrogen do this?” Yes I realize I’m using Freshmen level chem and math concepts, but this is what I know ok, so back off.  Guys like Kurzman work hard.  They get stuff.  The understand the value of figuring out a right answer, they ususally know it, and they understand how they got there.  If you have those skills, you can perhaps do anything, I don’t know, but I do know that you need this to be a future med-student (at least from my non-med student perspective).  I base this on the fact that now, Kurzman is expected to learn answers.  Right answers.  And when he is in practice, he will be expected to take the right answers he knows, apply them, and get more right answers. 

Guys like me, not so much.  In high school, I didn’t really “figure out answers.”  I wasn’t dumb and I didn’t do poorly grades wise, but there was a big difference between the way I got through classes with “answers” (Math, Science, Etc) and the way someone like Kurzman did.  I was fine at memorizing a process and repeating it over and over.  Thankfully, if you can do this, you will do well in public high school.  High school calc and chem, even at high levels, is “monkey work.” Memorize and repeat.  Just learn the formula, know what all the letters mean, and be able to solve a basic algebraic equation (which is really just more memorizing).  I could get the answers, do fine in those classes, but I never really got it.  Ask me to think creatively in a chem or math class and I’m lost, always was.  I was a step and a half behind the kids like Kurzman and a step ahead of the people that just didn’t have the ability to memorize and repeat. 

So what is “lawyer smart?”  What kind of answers do we have?  Simple, we construct arguments.  We take situations that are similar and we twist them.  We push things to the edges to break them and we put them back in ways we like.  Better yet, we understand that similar words and sentences can have different meanings and we can think quickly on our feet.  By we, I dont mean all law students, I mean people with skill sets like me.  We are the ones that are having the BS conversation about something in high school and take somebody’s logic, exagerate it to the ends, perhaps make an analogy, and attempt to show thats a “silly” line.  We frustrate people and they don’t end up agreeing most of the time, but they just don’t poke that hole in the logic.  We will argue fringe things and leave the other side feeling like they were just robbed.  Our place of excellence isn’t the chem lab, its the lunchroom debate or better year, the essay exam.  Not the “what were the causes of the american revolution” essay, but the “analyze X and Y using the themes of this course” types.  We play with ideas, put them together, and make conclusions.  The things we think we know are usually things that aren’t facts but opinions.  Or skill isn’t the ability to get the right answer, its the ability to constuct an argument so you think our opinion is the right answer. 

Flash forward a few years.  Last week Kurzman took a series of exams where he was expected to know things about certain body processes.  How they worked, what they did, in some cases what they looked like, and how they interact.  His creative thinking was connecting concepts.  Tomorrow I’ll take my second exam.  I’ve been studying hard and I’m running into problems because, in all honesty, I really don’t know anything.  There are facts and rules I’m supposed to know that I don’t because I just don’t learn those things well.  Hopefully it will work out, maybe it wont, but even if I knew them all perfectly, that wouldn’t be what this exam was about.  This exam is about taking those “facts” and “rules” (not the same as science facts) and applying them to a situation.  Play with the situation on both sides. Push and pull it, look for a path then try to build a wall to block it off, then climb over the wall you just built. 

The hardest part for me on this exam is that I don’t have the full knowledge base I should going into this exam.  In Kurzman’s world, not having the knowledge base would be the ballgame.  You can’t get a D without at least a strong knowledge base.  If I took a med school style exam about this material, I would fail.  Thankfully, lawyers don’t work on “these facts what result” they work on “these facts, what arguments.”  In this situation, with a last minute hail marry, I still have an outside shot at getting through this because even though I don’t have the full knowledge base, if I can figure out the general category, I can look up the rules and come up with an argument.  This would be like Kurzman going “well, I dont really know what muscles does that, but i know its in this broad family.  I’m hoping for a B and anticipating a B-.  Please wish me well. 

I have a sinking feeling about this exam, and the scarey part is, this is the one I’ll be best prepared for.  We’re not in high school anymore Rex (I didn’t wanna say Todo because 1. I don’t know how to spell it and 2. Rex sounds more manly). 

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Back many years ago before Kurzman realized he was smarter than everybody else we know we all went away to college, Kurzman and a bunch of people from our social circle used to have a fetish for making home movies.  I’ve got to admitt, as long as they weren’t signing at a party, they were pretty good.  Highlights include such classics as “Little Brother Throws Up in the Blue Monster”, “Leg Snap Relived”, and “Filming a Camp Fire So Long You Break A TV” (Seriously that actually happened).  There were also academic pieces like “Clay Dolls Earning an A in English”. 

Anyway, today I came across a set of law school videos that are both hilarious and true.  I’ve posted the link for your enjoyment.  I imagine the second and third videos are equally applicable to both groups (outside of some of the legal jokes in the third one) and the first one almost certainly has its version that exists in Med School.

 Enjoy the video’s here via Tax Prof Blog.

Gloating

October 21, 2007

The last two years it has been a rare week when I pick up a win in fantasy football.  Today was one such rare week as my team finally put up a good score (I use team losely because 2 players had over a third if my points).  That score was against Kurzman, and thus, I feel I must gloat.

Of course, Kurzman is also near the top of the league and I am hovering at the bottom, so take the gloating for what its worth.

Anyway, with that explination:

Take that KURZMAN!!! IN YOUR FACE.