October 08, 2020 Advance Sheet

The Narrowing of the Legal Mind

Narrow thinking and narrow-thinking lawyers are a grave danger to the profession.

Robert E. Shapiro

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Approaching the end of her freshman year, a college student called home to her parents, a tone of considerable desperation in her voice. “I don’t know what to do,” she said. “I’m not ‘pre’ anything.” Pressed for an explanation, she responded: “All my friends are ‘pre’-something, you know, pre-business, pre-med, pre-nursing, pre-law. I have no idea what I want to do and don’t know how to choose.” Her parents congratulated her on the breadth of her interests. Exasperated, and having let pass enough time for a virtual eye roll, she hung up, presumably to mull over her selection of an undergraduate major without the guidance of her family, let alone any specific career choice.

In our world, the imperative to know where one is headed upon graduation from college could hardly be greater. With the looming need to make a decent living, college students are increasingly pressured to decide early on what to do with their degrees. Indeed, the degrees themselves seem increasingly to be valued, or not, in terms of what future success they ensure in securing a position, if not by the income any such employment will offer. Much of this “pre” culture makes eminent good sense. We hardly needed the pandemic to remind us of the need for university graduates to get a good job. And it can hardly be denied that undergraduate organic chemistry, for example, is an essential, if daunting, prerequisite to matriculation in medical school. So, too, courses in marketing, finance, and accounting are good preparation for those intending to enter the moneymaking world directly.

But what, when all is said and done, is pre-law? Almost unheard of a generation ago, it has become a regular feature of the résumés of young lawyers who tout this major or field of concentration as proof of their commitment and readiness to become lifetime practitioners in the profession. But does the idea even make any sense?

Illustration by Dave Klug

Illustration by Dave Klug

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