Fear and Loathing in a Bar Blog

Fear and Loathing in a Bar

The other week the LTC texted me in distress.



Washington State has made the decision to eschew the Bar exam as a method of minting and licensing lawyers.



He was apoplectic.



I was considerably more prosaic.



We have had this debate before.



So.  Let me begin with my underlying philosophy, as well as his.  Then we will discuss the “state” of the situation on a more global level if you will… then finally wrap it up with some conclusions and ultimate decisions.



Stay with me on this one… the air is going to get a little thin up here.



Let’s begin with what the Bar is, how to get in on the gig, what the purpose was, and how the Bar, as well as law school, has changed over the years.



If you ever go into a courtroom you will notice there is a physical barrier that separates the gallery from the well, where the lawyers, clerks, reporters, litigants and jurors sit.  That physical separation is called the “Bar”… because… well… it is sort of a bar.



To gain entrance to the well you either have to be a member of the “Bar” or have direct business with the court.



In the past (up until 1871 actually), if you wanted to be a lawyer… well… you called yourself one.  Literally that was it.  Oh, there was “law school”, but law school was a gentleman’s endeavor that required little if any participation.  There was no “Bar exam” taken upon graduation.  This allowed people to be lawyers if they simply announced they were lawyers.



In 1871 Christopher Columbus Langdell became the dean of Harvard Law School and initiated a learning methodology that would alter the course of legal training to this day.  Law school became three years, and was based on a process of scientific education.  Through the use of studying appellate case law, and just as importantly, through the use of the Socratic Method, individuals became immersed in the law.



Guilds started to develop.



Conveniently these guilds were called “Bars” and to enter the guild you needed to prove your intellectual bona fides by passing an exam.  Since these guilds limited the number of lawyers who were members, they created a sort of structural monopoly.  (Some would say price fixing; I would be one of them.)  They also got laws passed that mandated the only people who could provide legal guidance were members of the Bar.  (If you are compensated for a legal opinion, you are actually committing a penal code violation… a misdemeanor… unless you are a member in good standing of your state Bar.)



So… less people were now allowed to practice law, and as such, the price of lawyers started to go up… a lot.



This is where the free market comes in, or more aptly, got pushed out.



Abraham Lincoln, Oliver Wendall Holmes Jr., John Adams… were all lawyers.



None had ever sat for a Bar exam.



But they were good.  They developed a reputation for excellence.  They were able to charge accordingly for what their services were worth, and what the demographics of their client base could afford.



Today we have paralegals.  These people are a relatively recent phenomenon in jurisprudence, but essentially they are subject matter experts on narrow aspects of the law.  Think of nurses as they relate to doctors.  Most nurses are far more sophisticated as it relates to their subject matter than the doctors who supervise them, and doctors are well aware of this.  Yet, nurses have not gone to medical school, and thus are not empowered to the same level doctors are.  Essentially, the same thing exists with paralegals.



Yet, for clients looking for resolution on a particular matter, they very well may be far better served by a paralegal than a lawyer.



If there was no “Bar” exam then paralegals could in essence “hang out their shingle” and start representing clients.  They would be subject to the same economic constraints that Lincoln, Holmes, and Adams dealt with.  Those who are “good” can charge more, and those who are “bad” will eventually leave the field.  Today, more than ever with apps like Yelp and Google Reviews, it has become far easier for the consumer to make an informed choice as to the quality of their counsel than ever before.  The Bar acting as a filtering mechanism makes, frankly, very little sense.



Unless, as the LTC points out… you are a member (like we are) of the Bar.



The LTC is absolutely correct.  We suffered through the indignity of law school… we toiled and studied (and in my case developed a smoking habit)… to pass the Bar.



Why should others now simply have the ability to “walk into the practice”?



Fair point.



Yet, degrees should matter.  Professional credentials should matter.



And a few decades ago they did.



Now I am not so sure.



The value of a college degree has been interesting to watch over the last few decades.  Before I was born, the value of a college degree had absolutely nothing to do with economic gain.  You went to college because you wanted to be an academic, not to make money.  In fact, it was highly likely you had the ability to go to college in the first place because your family was already rich.



After WWII, with the advent of the GI Bill, suddenly the government was prepared to pay for college.  (We had to do something with all those returning soldiers or there was the distinct possibility they could end up revolting if they could not find substantial employment.)  Warehousing them in upper education was a brilliant idea.  But they had to actually “study” something.  Oh… and those colleges had to get paid.



Degree subjects started to get varied… and well… weird.



Suddenly the U.S. developed a “professional class”… and it was a big professional class.



When you have a bunch of people who get degrees in business, their expectation of employment is not going to be satisfied by becoming an electrician.



Hence, we created the managerial class.



When I was growing up, going to college was not an option.  It WAS going to happen.  My parents based this on an economic calculus:  If you go to college you will earn more throughout your life.  Getting a degree… ANY DEGREE… was the end goal.  By going through college you were showing your prospective employer that you had “grit”, “commitment”, “a willing to finish what you started”.



Over the years I have been an adult, this calculus has begun to shift.  Now some employers, and that number is growing exponentially, view the possession of a college degree to be utterly irrelevant, and in some instances, an actual liability.



School itself has changed.



Record numbers of students are electing to forego the “traditional college experience” (something that only started to manifest for the first time in human history in the 1950s) and instead do online education.



Some have elected to become didactics and engage in self-education.  Today, the Library of Alexandria is literally at our fingertips.  In a sense, “traditional” schools must now compete against free information… and oftentimes the free information is better produced and more efficiently transmitted than the “traditional” model.



But what about the degrees conferred?  Don’t they stand for something?



I don’t know.  Do they?



What transcendent entity laid down blessings on one particular commercial institution that grants a degree any credibility?



School accreditation has become a silly endeavor, with many schools now abandoning the process altogether.



What makes an academic doctor (as opposed to a medical doctor) any more commercially desirable than anyone else?  And what makes an academic doctor a doctor in the first place?  That they paid their bill and were invited into a club that no one is particularly impressed with anymore?



To that end…



We developed the Artemis Defense Institute Centre for Advanced Strategic and Defensive Studies.



Through a long deliberative process, the LTC and I decided we will serve as Senior Fellows at our esteemed institution.



For a bit more credibility we have also decided that the Centre has conferred PhDs for both of us.



From henceforth, we expect to be addressed as Dr. Steven Lieberman and Dr. Cosmo Taormina.



Hit me up if you also want to be a Senior Fellow and Doctor as well… I’m fairly certain I can make a certificate suitable for framing.



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Comments (9)

  • Lawrence O'Connor Reply

    Please hook me up, I want to be Wicked Smaht! 🙂

    04/24/2024 at 08:17
    • Robert H. Colgrove Reply

      But you already are!

      04/24/2024 at 10:10
  • Johannes Bernbeck Reply

    Every time I read one of these, I learn something new.

    04/24/2024 at 08:32
  • Jeffrey D Tucker Reply

    I’ll have to earn that certificate first!

    04/24/2024 at 08:55
  • Adam Sheck Reply

    Agreed and agreed. And always happy to have an extra set of letters behind my name, so confer it upon me, s’il vous plaît.

    College education, aside from professional schools, makes not so much sense to me anymore. Of course, professional schools exist to satisfy government requirements, i.e., licensure, as they decide whom is qualified to deal with the public in our respective areas.

    True free enterprise would simply allow the market to assess who is qualified and/or successful as a surgeon or an attorney or a psychologist. Different conversation. Caveat emptor.

    Besides, as a Doctor of Jurisprudence, can’t you already call yourself ‘doctor’ ?

    04/24/2024 at 08:56
  • Robert Hagler Reply

    Ah, so many angles to approach these topics! I had a professor (rest his soul) who now has a stint of a California Freeway named in his honor. When it came time for semester evaluations, he reminded his students that the word “Terrific” had two “R’s” in it, humorously nudging them to give him a good evaluation, just before he exited the classroom.
    Along those humorous lines, he also said that college will make us “well rounded meatheads”! There is some reality to this. That professor informed us that we’d be leaving the university with the latest knowledge (true) in our field of study. Yes, there was “experience” to be had, and we would get that in due time if we endeavored. Those two elements would merge in time to make for a true professional in some sense. Experience is probably the best teacher, as we learn so much from our failures. I believe that a college education, if used in your particular field of study, can help minimize those failures. Overall, it is good to expand the mind!
    Anyway, I my case, the education helped me merge my day to day experience with the realities of the moment. I am now retired and grateful for that formal education as I used it in my direct field of study (Engineering/Surveying). Of course though, there were also those who strived and achieved without that formal education who experienced the same rich career success.
    Kudo’s to all those who keep moving forward and making contributions, whether through formal education or experience. There is some merit to the “jailhouse lawyer”, as I’ve heard the term used (those without degrees). When it is symbiotic (jailhouse coupled with the bar lawyer), decent decisions and outcomes can be had!

    04/24/2024 at 11:27
  • John Denney Reply

    I’m an autodidact; no degree but lots of knowledge & skills in many disparate fields, though some fields surprisingly overlap. Yamaha was founded to make musical instruments; their logo is 3 tuning forks. Their motorcycles have “tuned intakes” & “tuned exhausts”, using the same physics as musical instruments.

    A software company I worked for was stunned when I implemented Competitor A’s killer feature in a week; they knew highly respected Competitor B had assigned that task to an entire team of their best, but gave up after 3 months. Mine runs faster, properly handles recursion & 3D data (which crashes A’s), & is bug free.

    Your opinion resonates strongly with me.

    Whittaker Chambers said in his 1952 autobiograph, “Witness”, that in the 1920s the Soviets targeted education, media, & unelected government positions for infiltration.
    They were wildly successful & were never rooted out.
    So, commie ed, media, & Deep State, influencing all, with the goal of destroying America.

    The government “invested” in our young people, passing out student loans like candy for worthless “education” that doesn’t enable them to pay off their loans, but deludes them into thinking they’re bright, intelligent, & educated. Now President Biden courts their support by forgiving their loans, likely even the loans of students who chant, “Death to America!”

    04/24/2024 at 13:06
  • Hugh Evehart Reply

    Stephen, should we call you “doctor-doctor”. You have a JD (Juris Doctor) already and now a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)? 😉

    04/24/2024 at 19:33
  • Norm Ellis Reply

    Your are definitely correct. In the engineering field the schools are producing button pushers now days. The real and good engineers died out in the 50 & 60’s. That being said, A good engineer today is one who has been trained in the shop. Sadly, that is disappearing also.

    04/27/2024 at 17:52

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