Law school: 'kindergarten for cretins' - Macleans.ca
 

Law school: ‘kindergarten for cretins’

Canadian universities are “closed and fearful institutions”


 

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Most people think of lawyers as silver-tongued, but Robert Martin, a retired law professor at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont., admits that subtlety is not his strong suit. His paper, “University Legal Education in Canada is Corrupt Beyond Repair,” is as subtle as a sledgehammer: in it, he compares law faculties to “psychotic kindergartens” populated by “a horde of illiterate, ignorant cretins.” The paper, published last fall in the academic journal Interchange, made the rounds of law blogs and news sites in Canada and abroad last week, turning Martin into a minor Internet phenom.

It’s no wonder the legal community picked up on the article. Canadian universities are “closed and fearful institutions,” writes Martin, 70, from which students graduate “armed with bits of paper, which most of them are probably not able to read, called degrees.” Schools have adopted a “corporate model,” he continues, singling out the University of Toronto’s law faculty, which, in deregulating its tuition fees, “pattern[ed] itself after a Wal-Mart outlet.” Other faculties, “equally lacking in integrity,” followed suit. Martin’s solution is to close every law faculty, offer the buildings to the homeless, and use law textbooks as kindling—“a much more socially useful function,” he writes, than “being gawped at by illiterate students.”

Academics refused to comment, suggesting that to do so would give the article—published in a journal even Martin calls “obscure”—a veneer of credibility. Still, Martin is unapologetic: “I believe in being direct and to the point,” he told Maclean’s in an email. “If one is to spend one’s time paralyzed by the fear that one’s writing might offend someone, then one should not be writing.”

Elsewhere, legal watchers reacted with a mixture of horror and glee. The State Bar of Michigan blog, for one, said Martin “defies both the stereotype of the super-polite Canadian and of the phlegmatic academic,” while Simon Chester, who blogs on the well-read Slaw.ca, dismissed Martin’s words as a “hyperbolic rant,” a point that most seem to agree on. “Talk about your cranky old man,” wrote one commenter on the site.


 
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Law school: ‘kindergarten for cretins’

  1. Definitely deregulation of tuition has done a lot of harm to Canadian law schools. But while there are strong criticisms one might make, the idea of being "illiterate" is preposterous.

    • "Illiterate" has two meanings: (1) unable to read, and (2) not well-read.
      Obviously the first does not apply, but the second may well apply.

    • My thought exactly, there is a LOT wrong with the legal profession, but I'd say they're still quite well trained to read a lot of boring crap.

  2. Thanks to deregulation of tuition, U of T law has been able to vastly improve its reputation and faculty. Moreover, the high revenues from students that do pay tuition has enabled the law school to be far more generous to students in need. The field of law wastes many of our best minds on tasks that contribute little to our productivity (finance is the other major talent sink, though in the right conditions it can contribute to growth). Subsidizing legal education – when lawyer salaries already offer more than enough remuneration for the costs of law school – through artificially low tuition is an utter waste of money.

    • Hogwash. The faculty and reputation stayed the same but the faculty was probably paid a little more. It was a good canadian school with limited int'l reputation before, it's a good canadian school with limited int'l reputation now. You're way way out to lunch on that one. And since all the other ontario schools raised their tution as well, nobody gets a competitive advantage.

      The biggest effect was that people flocked to the BC schools for a period of two years before they raised their tuition as well.

      And though there are a few more scholarships now (not as many as they want you to think, but hey! you don't seem to care if you know what you're talking about) there's also a lot more people who just don't go because the price is too high. Trust me, they didn't do this to help the disadvantaged. You get a far better calibre student body by charging about the same as undergrad (and remember, the most talented get the full scholarship anyway).

      The high salary is another common myth – a great deal of lawyers make very middle class amounts, some are even quite poor. YOu certiainly haven't seen even bay street salaries climb 300% in the last decade or so, since tuition was dregulated.

      Far from being an intellectual waste, law is the very backbone of our polity and we are a better country when people can study it at a price that heavily favours the wealthy.

      • I disagreed with U of T's decision at the time, and my concern — and that of many other alums — was that you'd get a "donut-shaped" student body demographic. In other words, of course students from wealthy families could afford to go, and then for the disadvantaged, yes, you'd get these poster child types who are there on scholarships and the like. But that leaves out the lower middle class, which is a huge demographic in our society — in other words, those who don't come from wealth, but don't come from poverty or don't have any other obvious disability that would merit a scholarship or financial aid. You end up with a student body that is, in my view, less representative of society than it used to be, especially in socioeconomic terms.

        • indeed. if the cliche that knowledge is freedom has any value, it's most profound in the field of law. so long as the rich have a near-monopoly on law school, they have a near-monopoly on the law, and this can only lead to a strengthening of class divisions because for every altruistic, idealistic young rich kid there's a dozen that view the masses as wage serfs.

          if the goal is to lessen class divisions, and it of course should be, then one of the most effective things that can be done would be to help the lower middle class, or dare i even say working poor, work their way into the legal system; if the goal is to maintain or solidify class barriers then maintaining the near-monopoly is the way to move forward.

  3. The best teachers, the ones who make lives, all end their careers like this. I’m sure the profession can handle the inevitable words of the greatly departed!

  4. My experience with lawyers is that they consider themselves well-educated when in fact they know very little about anything beyond the law and the use of sophistry. In other words, they are trained for a particular profession and have very little real education – so little that they generally don't even know the difference between "training" and "education".

    It's not a problem restricted to lawyers, either, although it is often worse in their case because they seem to receive a fair amount of indoctrination in law school without the intellectual grounding required to assess it with independent thought from a broad array of viewpoints.

  5. "“a horde of illiterate, ignorant cretins.”"

    Nearly 70% of whom are female. Just sayin'.

    • Actually 53%, roughly their proportion of the population. Don't let facts get in the way though.

  6. don't get me started on this, and it's certainly not just the law schools.

    the correct historical analogy is to the catholic church before the reformation. serious, comprehensive changes need to be made from the top down, which is going to have to start with politicians recognizing that there's a massive problem.

    no….i'm not going to get started on this.

    • although let me say this…

      i tend to show up all over the place so maybe some people know i've studied math. i'm taking an introductory law 101 course over the summer; it's not actually law school, it's a sociology course, really, but it's also a law course, which reminds me, i should really be spending less time rambling and more time finishing my essay.

      anyway, as would be expected in an introductory law course, one of the things being discussed is mills' classic "on liberty" essay. of course, the essay itself wasn't assigned as reading – that's too much to expect of the student body. it was simply discussed and summarized in a dissenting article that's only a few pages long; the whole treatise was reduced to two paragraphs in the introduction, and while i'm willing to grant that this summary is not inaccurate, how can a person get through a first year law course without reading the entire essay? i'm sure i'm not the only person that took the time to read the whole thing, but i'd suspect that, out of a class of several hundred students, the number that did could be counted with your fingers (which is probably how most of the student body actually counts).

      i took the time to read it because i like to walk around calling myself a liberal and i thought that it might be prudent to take the opportunity to read one of the classic texts of liberaism. it turns out that i'd seen essentially all of the arguments second hand somewhere else, but it was nice to learn where most of them actually came from. all of this was to pull out a quote that struck me as profound…

      "It is the fashion of the present time to disparage negative logic—that which points out weaknesses in theory or errors in practice, without establishing positive truths. Such negative criticism would indeed be poor enough as an ultimate result; but as a means to attaining any positive knowledge or conviction worthy the name, it cannot be valued
      too highly; and until people are again systematically trained to it, there will be few great thinkers, and a low general average of intellect, in any but the mathematical and physical departments of speculation"

      • I agree, a lot of students in the classes I've taken over the years simply don't do the readings. I find the work load for three courses quite time-consuming, with little room for private interests. I asked a fellow student a few years ago how she managed to take six courses, work a job and yet continue to be active in the student body. She told me that she basically sacrificed two courses by not going to class, not doing the readings, and by doing the bare minimum amount of effort required, and that she would still likely get a B in each. I've met a few others with this sort of mentality: get the work done as fast as possible, get the bare requirements, and head straight to lawschool to make money. Yet even a friend of mine who isn't looking at law, but just ethics, has the same work habits, and once told me that he had nearly a year logged in on a single character in World of Warcraft. We're talking in the 8000 hour range, and this clueless, irresponsible child will likely be a future philosophy professor. It's a pretty grim picture.

  7. Generalizations, generalizations. I am a law student and I have a deep passion for learning. I adore reading classic literature, philosophy and current publications like the Economist. Although I wish to enter corporate law, I'm currently researching the philosophical origin of rights from the perspective of Immanuel Kant. If I am illiterate, then I venture to say that 90% of Canada is illiterate.

    Yes, there are some law students who don't care about education and want money. But does that make them any different from the rest of the world? Seriously. Lawyers have a very bad reputation and as one commentator about put it, are sophists. I would encourage everyone who dislikes lawyers and thinks they are sophists to study the law themselves. Do you know why lawyers seem like sophists? Because the law in Canada has slowly evolved over nearly a thousand years (coming from England), and in its current form is extremely complex. Someone needs to wade through pages and pages of "boring" legal text to determine what the answer to your legal problem is. Yes, we charge money for this process. But go ahead – do it yourself if you would like.

    If you have not read Martin's essay in full, I suggest you do. The reason academics refuse to comment, my guess is, because Martin's essay is nonsense. Is this Martin's way of looking back and justifying how he spent his life? If anything, Martin's essay is a sad personal reflection.