Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Today's Law Students; Tomorrow's Lawyers-Who-Can't-Do-Math

In Prof. Jim Chen's recent post The Hypothesis Factory he makes the following observation about contemporary legal scholars:
...most legal academics are simply not capable of "regularly producing and working with 'mathematically rigorous proofs and large-scale statistical evidence.'" But we do enjoy a comparative advantage in generating hypotheses. The historic proliferation of abstract theories in legal scholarship suggests as much.
Long before I even got to law school I lost track of the number of times I was asked, "you're going to law school, don't you study biology?!?" Perhaps I was a little ahead of my peers by jumping on the interdisciplinary bandwagon and by having faith that I did in fact learns skills in my labs that would serve me well outside the context of science class. My instincts were correct, but I do find it troubling that I'm able to add value simply by not being afraid of reading a scientific paper.

If I may throw another hypothesis out there, I can't help but think that the culture of higher education may be to blame for the dearth of analytical skills in the legal academia community. Whether it be the naive belief that one should study government in college as preparation for law school, universities who offer "less rigorous" math and science classes for non-majors to fulfill their science requirements, the students who avoid any course that might put a blemish on their transcript in anticipation of grad school applications, or the misconception that excelling in the humanities and sciences are mutually exclusive; the result is that students become so far removed from the scientific method that a procedure first introduced to them in grade school may as well be a foreign language. It still amazes me how many bright people I encounter who assume reaching a numerical answer, let alone explaining it's significance, requires crossing an insurmountable hurdle. As far as I'm concerned it's all psychosomatic. Anyone good enough at logical reasoning to score well on the LSAT should be able to come up with a way to test the hypotheses he generates.

Shortly after reading Prof. Chen's post I came across this article discussing a report which found that it is the way in which young American students are taught science that explains why they continue to lag behind their international peers. The article in part blames,
an overstuffed curricula taught by teachers who don't thoroughly understand the subject matter. Students are also stymied by "repeated, shallow coverage" that fails to give them a conceptual understanding of what it means to do science.
Perhaps the root of the problem actually lies even earlier in the educational process. Regardless, I do think law students needed to be reminded that science is merely a process, and there is no reason why they can’t master that too.


Anonymous Frankenstein said...

Right before we started the accounting module in my Corporations class, the professor asked how many people in the room came to law school because they thought they'd never do any math ever again.

Half the room raised their hand.

9/30/2006 7:36 PM  

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