: The Blawgraphy
Life of a Law Student, University of Houston Law Center

Please note: I'm no longer updating this particular blog, but keep it around for archival purposes. Visit me at the current blog at

Are lawyers born or made narcissistic?

I’ve been developing a theory for a concern of mine over the past few months that I may try to develop here on the blog. My concern is this – are lawyers self-selecting narcissists or do we become that way as part of our indoctrination into the profession? I knew this was a somewhat narcissistic and self-obsessed profession when I decided to go to law school. What I had assumed going into it was that this was a self-selection problem – that a lot of
people go to law school because they want the power and prestige associated (rightly or wrongly) with the profession. I’ve been in law school for almost two years now and I for a variety of reasons now tend to think that while self-selection is part of it, the study of law itself breeds narcissism and rewards self-obsessed behavior as part of the dominant image of the legal process and ‘learning to think like a lawyer.’

I’ll leave that assertion to stand on its own for now. Hopefully I’ll have the time to come back and delve into the details, but a talk by psychologist Daniel Goleman, from the TED conference, entitled Why aren’t we all Good Samaritans? spurred my thinking along a little on this.

Daniel Goleman @ the TED Conference

One of Goleman’s points is that there is no correlation between IQ and empathy. He describes a visit his brother-in-law made to interview the Santa Cruz Strangler, a serial killer with a 160 point IQ, who when asked how he could kill his victims in such an intimate way responded, “If I felt their distress I could not have done it. I had to turn that part of me off.”

I was struck by the notion that much of “becoming a lawyer” in terms of learning to think and reason in an abstract, disinterested and objective manner is uncomfortably close to “turning that part of ourselves off.”

While I’m certainly NOT advocating the injection of touchy-feely new age-y-ness, I’m nevertheless a bit horrified by the thought that were nurturing our sociopathic tendencies and wonder if there isn’t a middle path.

More later.

Children and the Law, the Blog

Just a shameless plug and an apology for the light blogging – as part of my work with the Center for Children, Law and Policy at the University of Houston Law Center, we’ve launched a new Children and the Law Blog as part of the center’s mission in promoting interdisciplinary scholarship, advocacy and teaching to advance the interests of children through public policy. Visit often.

Balkin & Posner Debate Liberty vs. Security on

Two leading Constitutional Law Profs, Jack Balkin (Yale) and Eric Posner (Chicago) face off on debating various aspects of Liberty vs. Security, focusing on whether or not we live in a time of emergency, the threat from government in a surveillance state and what it means for our civil liberties.

Why You Sometimes Do Poorly on Exams You Felt Good About

Scott at Simple Justice has found an answer to an intriguing question, Why Are Incompetents So Certain?. I wonder if it also explains why I so often feel worst about exams I turn out to do well on and vice versa? Woe to the law student who finds an exam question simple or easy. According to the Dunning-Kruger effect where “those little knowledge think that they know more than others who have much more knowledge” we may be confusing our own ignorance for the issue’s simplicity. For some reason, this seems to explain a lot about law school.

Some thoughts on Selecting Electives in Law School

Professor Volokh had an intriguing post today, Law School Classes One Should Definitely Take If One Wants To Practice in the Area. It’s an open comment post and the commentary is intriguing. It made me think of my own particular view of how to choose classes.

Now a year and a half into this venture, I’m now in elective-land where I have no one to blame but myself for taking any class I end up suffering through. It’s not as liberating as you might suppose when you’re wading through the 1L core. It is, after all, still law school. So in true law school fashion I use a rough weighing system on three elements to decide what classes to take:

  1. 20% subject matter
  2. 30% sanity preserving schedule
  3. 50% professor.
  4. The subject matters very little to me. I put it at 20% because there are some courses I feel I absolutely must take – evidence, criminal procedure, etc, but aside from those, I care very little. This approach makes more sense once you admit to yourself that as a law student you simply haven’t got a clue, about most things really, but particularly what area you’re going to practice in. Alternately, if you absolutely know you’re going to be say, a patent attorney. Taking, say Animal Law instead of Patent Defense III may be one of your few remaining opportunities to develop something tolerable to talk about at cocktail parties.

    Creating a sanity preserving schedule matters a little more, and applies across the board. As an evening student this is paramount for me. It’s particularly important to check the schedule of your finals. My school publishes the date and time for finals well ahead of registration. The goal is to give yourself a few days between each one to focus on the subject and for your mind to suppress the awful memories of the previous experience sufficiently to do it again.

    The biggest factor for me is the professor. It’s important that the prof loves his or her subject matter. This may seem odd since I don’t consider my own liking of the subject matter to be very important at all, but a professor teaching in an area they’re not that interested in or have become burnt out on is lethal. Other than that I find it helps if they’re a bit scary, Kingsfield scary. Ideally it’s someone with high standards, who is demanding enough to get me to stretch, and who has the mental acuity to show me what I didn’t have the capacity to know I didn’t know.

    This last aspect – the ability to point out succinctly and unequivocally the holes in a student’s understanding – is a rare and valuable attribute. Prof. Sanders, one of my favorite professors at Houston, is the most gracious of socratic assassins. He would ask you the issue and listen politely while you fumbled around for it. Once stated, he would ask you to pick a side and argue in support of it. He would then proceed to surgically pick apart your argument until you realized the folly of your choice. He would then offer to allow you to take the other side, for which he had just given three or four convincing arguments of his own. You learned to accept this second challenge with foreboding, because you knew he was about to obliterate your arguments again with the same side with which you had just proven so inept. The fundamental lesson of this exchange was to grow skeptical of your certainty, to test it in every conceivable fashion, to have good, solid reasons for every assertion. While Sanders was remarkable for his magnanimity and how oddly pleasant he made the mental ass-whipping you were receiving, there are a number of profs at Houston who are equally adept. When you find these people take every class from them you can.

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