Friday, April 25, 2008

"I try not to read that many cases"

In case you haven't seen it, check out this story, which involves the following exchange at a recent 5th Circuit oral argument:

Judge: You don’t know Morgan?
Phipps: Nope.
Judge: You haven’t read it?
Phipps: I try not to read that many cases, your Honor. Ricks is the only one I read. Oh,
Ledbetter, I read Ledbetter, and I read that one that they brought up last night.
I don’t know if that’s not Ledbetter, I can’t remember the name of it. Ricks is the
one that I go by; it’s my North star. Either it applies or it doesn’t apply. I don’t
think it applies.
Judge: I must say, Morgan is a case that is directly relevant to this case. And for you
representing the Plaintiff to get up here—it’s a Supreme Court case—and say
you haven’t read it. Where did they teach you that?Gavel_15
Phipps: They didn’t teach me much, Your Honor.
Judge: At Tulane, is it?
Phipps: Loyola.
Judge: Okay. Well, I must say, that may be an all time first.
Phipps: That’s why I wore a suit today, Your Honor.
Judge: Alright. We’ve got your attitude, anyway.

(Hat tip to the Legal Profession Blog)  --RR

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This is quite sad, but I have to say what stands out to me is his statement about law school that "They didn't teach me much"; it stands out for me because it rings so true with my own experience. My professors in law school, especially first year, simply lectured on what the rules were; we would memorize the black-letter law and then regurgitate it on the exams. It was great preparation for the bar exam but, alas, offered zero training in how to be a lawyer. My suspicion is that outside of perhaps the top three or four schools in the country the situation is similar at most law schools: it has long been a common complaint at law firms that new associates are pretty much useless and have to be trained from scratch. In light of this, what stands out to me from all the follow-up is that the talented Mr Phipps MH entry lists his firm as Phipps & Phipps, so it may be that he essentially hung out his shingle after law school. If that's the case, then he's probably never had any training to be a lawyer.

Posted by: Dave | Apr 26, 2008 6:32:57 PM

I agree that it is sad that most law schools are alleged not to teach their students much. I have two comments in response:

1) Presuming that the "top three or four schools in the country" are offering more in the way of "how to be a lawyer" than the couple hundred that follow is probably fallacious (unless I'm misinterpreting how you define "top" law schools--I presume something along the lines of USNews rankings). I do not attend one of the "top" law schools by traditional objective criteria. Nevertheless, by having practical-minded faculty and a practice-oriented curriculum I think it does an excellent job of preparing lawyers for practice. That being said, you are undoubtedly correct that this type of practical education is not the norm. The focus of modern law schools seems to be the source of this problem of general unpreparedness. The solution is within reach of any school and I don't think it is to be found in emulating the "top" schools in the nation.

2) I think the display referenced in this story goes far beyond a demonstration of a poor-quality legal education. This seems to be a lawyer being flippant almost to the point of contempt (I would love to hear the audio, but I haven't looked it up yet). If not, one would hope any person with even a basic understanding of the American legal system would know that some research is necessary to make a solid legal argument. If he simply did not understand that, I can't imagine blaming his law school. While his comments may be reminiscent of the gripe the legal field has with the legal education system, I don't think it's an example of that problem.

Posted by: Jeff FIsher | Apr 28, 2008 9:08:54 AM

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