Denver Bar Association
April 2007
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Do We Destroy Young Lawyers? Litowitz explores this concept in The Destruction of Young Lawyers: Beyond One L

by Dennis Walker

"He demonstrates that the skills tested on the bar exam have very little to do with the qualities needed to successfully practice law. Instead, he recommends a series of seminars and practical courses in the nuts and bolts of practice."

Douglas Litowitz presents a challenging case for reforming the way young lawyers are treated. He evokes the 30-year-old memoir of Scott Turow by subtitling his new book "Beyond One L." Readers may not be drawn by the title, The Destruction of Young Lawyers: Beyond One L (copyright 2006, Douglas Litowitz, the University of Akron Press).

In America, young lawyers are taught, tested and indoctrinated in ways that cause them to be "pathologically unhappy," according to professor Litowitz. He cites studies, and critiques, and concludes:

"All of the available evidence — anecdotal and statistical — points to the inescapable conclusion that the legal profession makes young people unhappy, anxious, depressed and desperate," page 9.

After posing this problem, professor Litowitz develops his point by examining the soul-killing forces of law school, the bar exam and initial years of practice with typical firms.

Readers should ignore the dismal title and give this book a chance. Many agree that law school was a tortuous experience. Some speak of law school days with vivid recall of the insurmountable workload and hyper-competitiveness. Others reflect upon those three years as a rite of passage or a prolonged hazing.

Litowitz tackles practical problems with law school. He offers positive recommendations. He suggests that classes should emphasize practical skills such as legal writing. He urges use of the case-method style of instruction with students assigned to work as teams on particular projects comparable to the tasks accomplished by lawyers in actual practice and drawing on actual court cases with real clients from the law school’s clinic. He urges a combination of lectures and problem-solving in lieu of the Socratic method. Litowitz shows how law schools tend to serve the interests of everyone except law students. He cites several reforms being attempted at some of the schools. He also laments the emphasis in law schools on numbers, money, the concerns of the established and powerful, and prestige.

Litowitz pulls no punches about the bar exam, describing it as a "charade that should be abolished or radically reformed." He demonstrates that the skills tested on the bar exam have very little to do with the qualities needed to successfully practice law. Instead, he recommends a series of seminars and practical courses in the nuts and bolts of practice to replace the three months devoted to a bar review course, followed by exams and a two- or three-month wait for results. Alternatively, he proposes mandatory apprenticeship programs where competency could be certified by supervising lawyers.

Litowitz supports his arguments with hundreds of footnotes, but they don’t detract from his narrative. The text is only 144 pages. He has unearthed many gems such as the reaction in New York to the idea of allowing students who have elected public service to opt out of the multi-state bar exam. When the organized bar turned down the idea, they then raised the passing score on the bar exam in order to "protect the public," page 69.

The structure of typical law firm practice is examined. Litowitz captures the alienation of young associates. He explores the extraordinary hours, the exposure to only one portion of client problems, the lack of interaction between clients and young associates, the heavy emphasis on money, and what he describes as the exploitation of associates. He uses the thinking of Karl Marx and his well-known critique of profit-driven systems. Litowitz finds fault with the number of attorneys, the emphasis on hourly billing, and the absence of a meaningful mentoring program in most organizations.

Finally, he highlights the importance of lawyers being devoted to concerns they care about and that challenge them. Litowitz also condemns the "dark side" of large-firm practice and some of the apparent soul-killing qualities. He describes the hidden desire of lawyers to abandon the practice of law in large-firm settings. He explains factors that generate feelings of powerlessness and malaise.

Readers should find interest in the author’s suggestions for professionalism. He supports his positions with analytical concepts grounded in psychology and economics. His suggestions for change are challenging and worth the time.


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