You’ve probably heard by now that Supreme Court Justice Scalia thinks that some of our greatest minds are being wasted in the legal profession. I was planning on not covering that particular story, partly because it’s already been widely reported on, and partly because I have long been of the opinion that the minds that are in the legal profession operate differently than the minds that are in the sciences. In other words, we legal folk aren’t suited to handle the type of work done by scientists and engineers.
But Scalia seems to think that the over abundance of bright lawyers would better serve society if they were discovering new genes or cures for diseases. He might be crazy. I tell you now that society would actually be harmed if they put me in a science lab. I would probably mix the wrong chemicals and come out a different color (hopefully orange or purple or something fun), and with an extra arm. I am not good at science. I like science, I dabble in science, but I cannot make a full time study of science. At least not without seriously injuring myself or the human race. And a lot of attorneys I know feel the same way.
So, anyway, after saying I wasn’t going to write about this, why am I writing about it now? Well, today over at Lowering the Bar, there was a nice post that agreed with my point of view. And Eric Johnson at another of my favorite blogs, Prawfsblawg, had made a similar argument as Scalia’s in March of last year. I was glad to see that someone was on the same page as me when I read the Lowering the Bar post, but then when I saw the Prawfsblawg post, I starte to change my mind.
When I read Eric Johnson’s post, I thought not about how there are too many lawyers, or that those lawyers should be curing cancer. I thought about the wasteful nature of the profession as a whole. Here’s the second half of Johnson’s post:
But, since justice in America is based on the adversarial system, isn’t every bright law student just cancelled out by another equally bright classmate? Is the legal profession just an arms race that squanders talent in the overall scheme of things?
These questions are not limited to the litigation context. Think of the tens of thousands of hours of brilliance that goes into outsmarting the tax code. I sure don’t blame folks for doing it. But does the effort leave us all better off?
Let’s suppose that smarter lawyers make truth more findable for juries and law more just as applied by courts. Even if that were true, is the gain large enough to offset the opportunities lost by not redirecting bright minds into science, business, engineering, medicine, and the arts?
Aside from the last line where he suggests other pursuits for the bright legal minds, Johnson is noting that the things done in the legal profession are a waste, in and of themselves. No matter how many or how few bright minds become lawyers, they will all be doing the same wasteful things. They’re just arguing! But that arguing is important–as Johnson notes, it “makes the truth more findable.”
Of course, I’m no good at science, so I’ll stick with law. But if I was any good at science…would it be a good idea for me to change careers? Maybe. Maybe we should leave law to the people like me, who couldn’t titrate a buffer solution if our lives depended on it, and let those who are bright at both law and science leave the legal profession to cure cancer.