Should you really go to law school?

Despite the down economy and big firm layoffs, college students are still beating down the doors of law schools in America. More people — 60,746 — took the most recent LSAT on September 26 than had ever taken the exam before. The number of LSAT takers has been on the rise since 2007, but this is the largest jump since 2001— nearly 20% over last year.

I won’t dig into the reasons for this increase too much. (If you are interested, this thorough post on Most Strongly Supported has a good discussion.) But for any person considering law school or a legal career, this is a good excuse to discuss the question of whether you really should go to law school.

There has been a flurry of articles and blawg posts lately about whether a legal education is really a good investment. Vanderbilt Law professor Herwig Schlunk wrote an entertainingly-titled article “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be … Lawyers,” and Paul Caron of TaxProf Blog asserted that “Going to Law School Is Like Starting to Smoke.” There’s a healthy dose of humor and pessimism in both those pieces, but even the most optimistic observers have to recognize that the legal profession is undergoing a shift that is destroying many of the institutions that made it so lucrative. Aspiring lawyers must now realize that they might not have a job waiting for them when they graduate from law school. And law schools, particularly those in the top tier, have become more like big businesses than halls of learning. While the median income of lawyers increased by 25% from 1987 to 2002, the average law school debt increased 400% over that same period. In 2005, the average graduate of a private law school had $78,000 of debt from law school alone.

Young LDS students considering legal careers should carefully consider these sobering number, in light of Mormon Church advice on avoiding debt. I have heard many people within the Church say that borrowing money is okay for purchasing a home, obtaining an education, and sometimes to purchase a vehicle. But given the housing market collapse and the rising costs of a legal education, students should understand that neither a house nor an education is always a good investment.

While some parts of the country are still under-serviced, there are probably too many people getting into the practice of law. Last month Justice Antonin Scalia commented that he thought that America is “wasting some of our best minds” on lawyering, when other fields lack qualified applicants. After last September’s jump in LSAT takers, the ABA Journal took the unusual step of suggesting that applicants “consider the alternatives.

My advice to people considering law school is the same that it has always been. If you are interested in the practice of law, then by all means, pursue it. But if you don’t know what to do with your life and you know lawyers can make a lot of money, I think it’s a bad decision. I also recommend that future law students find out for themselves whether they will like legal practice. Most law schools will let you sit in on first-year law school classes, and you can volunteer or do internships at legal offices to find out what the practice is really like. It is better to find out early on that you wouldn’t really like being a lawyer, and if you do like it, the experience will cement your decision.

This content is cross-posted from LDS Law.

In response to a commenter

Last month I noticed a lurking commenter on this site that also commented on one of Jeff Breinholt’s posts over at Mormon Matters. (Jeff is a DoJ attorney with a superb series of legal posts. If you haven’t read his stuff, I highly recommend it.) The commenter identifies himself as Frank Fox, who Jeff named as one of the pro se litigants who has filed multiple spurious lawsuits against the Mormon Church.

I got curious about these cases, and found several opinions dismissing two of Fox’s previous lawsuits. The first lawsuit, Fox v. Hawk, was dismissed sua sponte under F.R.C.P. 12(b)(6). (Cases filed pro se and in pauperis can be reviewed sua sponte under Hall v. Bellmon.) The Utah District Court gave Fox a chance to amend his Complaint, but the Amended Complaint still failed to state a claim and the case was ultimately dismissed on May 9, 2008.

Fox filed another pro se suit on February 27 of this year in the case Fox v. Eyring. Fox identified Henry B. Eyring as the leader of the Mormon Church, and alleged various claims, including that Eyring and the Church had violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §1983 and §1985 and had cyberstalked him. Acting sue sponte, the Utah District Court again found Fox’s claims to be baseless and dismissed  the suit for failure to state a claim.

Not easily deterred, Frank G. Fox filed a new case in his home state of Louisiana a mere week after the dismissal of the Eyring case. In Fox v. Tippetts he again alleges civil rights violations by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Fox says that the Church hasn’t yet responded to the lawsuit, and I haven’t seen any of the filings. However, unless Fox’s pleadings have improved significantly since Eyring, this case may be doomed to a swift dismissal as well.

My guess is that almost any large institution or public figure continually face spurious lawsuits. In fact, Jeff Breinholt’s research seems to show that the Mormon Church faces more than it’s fair share of frivolous litigation. But these aren’t the sorts of cases that keep the Church Legal Department up at night.

How Maine Q. 1 is different from Prop 8

The campaign has mostly stayed below the radar, but voters in Maine will soon decide whether same-sex marriage will be legalized in their state.  Question 1 on this November’s ballot is very similar to last year’s California Proposition 8, but there are some big differences that I think are important.

Same-sex marriage was briefly legalized in California as a result of the state Supreme Court decision In re Marriage Cases.  The court refused to stay its holding to allow legal challenges, resulting in the voter initiative know as Prop. 8.  That vote and the subsequent California Supreme Court review brought gay marriages to a halt in California, but did not invalidate those already performed.

Contrast that tumultuous history with the background in Maine.  Like in New Hampshire, same-sex marraige was legalized in Maine through legislative act rather than judicial opinion.  I consider this to be a far preferable method of implementing new laws, for several reasons.  For example, the Maine statute included specific language about religious freedoms and addressed how the new law would (and would not) alter the obligations of religious organizations, clergy, and individuals.  I don’t think the Maine statute went far enough to protect individuals, but it’s a lot better than the silence in California on the topic.

Maine was also prudent enough to delay issuing marriage licenses to gay couples pending the outcome of Question 1.  While this may delay the ability of some couples to marry, I think it is much better to avoid the legal limbo and further litigation that happened in California.  The Maine statute also seems to address legitimate interests of gay citizens, rather than the ephemeral social acceptance the California Supreme Court attempted to mandate.  In general, I think legislators and officials in Maine have taken a far better approach to the question of legalizing same-sex marriage than their counterparts in California.

For Mormons, one of the biggest differences in the two campaigns is that the LDS Church has not taken an active role in the Maine initiative like it did in California. Individual Mormons are active in the campaign, but there have been no letters read from the pulpit or public statements from Mormon officials like in Prop. 8. I think this may be due to the fact that there is a smaller LDS population in Maine than in California, and perhaps the legislative approach to the law change and religious protections were more palatable to Mormon leaders. However, given the backlash and hostility following the outcome of Prop. 8, perhaps Mormon leaders are reluctant to get involved in a firefight again.

Despite their differences, Maine Question 1 and California Proposition 8 do have one thing in common: just days before the election, both initiatives were too close to call.  Maine Question 1 is running about even in the polls, so it won’t be until November 3 before we know the outcome.

Photo credit: J. Stephen Conn.This content is cross-posted from LDS Law.

New Zealand High Court Sides Against Mormon Church In IP Challenge


A New Zealand High Court found in favor of Robert Sintes for his use “family search”. Sintes of Auckland, is the owner of familytracing.co.nz which specializes in locating the living lost. The LDS Church owned Intellectual Reserve, Inc. (IRI), objected to his use of the phrase “family search” on his website. IRI, owns the LDS Church’s intellectual property, including copyrights and trademarks. IRI, was seeking to avoid confusion by both groups using the same phrase on their websites.

familysearch.org is a free family research service provided by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to the public.

LDS Church Clarifies Record Of Plaza Kissing Incident

On Friday the LDS Church released a statement regarding the two men arrested on Main Street Plaza for engaging in inappropriate behavior. Unlike what I’ve read from other articles covering this story these men were “engaging in behavior deemed inappriopriate for any couple on the Plaza. There was much more involved than a simple kiss on the check.” Below is a copy of the press release in its entirety.


“There has been a good deal of publicity surrounding an incident where two men were cited for trespassing because of belligerent and profane behavior on the Church Plaza, which is an extension of the Salt Lake City Temple grounds and Church headquarters. While this property is owned by the Church, we want it to be a place of beauty and serenity in downtown Salt Lake City for everyone.

As we said earlier on this matter, these men were asked to stop engaging in behavior deemed inappropriate for any couple on the Plaza. There was much more involved than a simple kiss on the cheek. They engaged in passionate kissing, groping, profane and lewd language, and had obviously been using alcohol. They were politely told that the Plaza was not the place for such behavior and asked to stop. When they became belligerent, the two individuals were asked to leave Church property. Church security detained them and Salt Lake City police were called.

There is nothing satisfying in learning that there have been problems for anyone on Church property. We hope the Plaza will continue to be an asset to the community and enjoyed by the many that cross it each day.”

Mormon Missionary Murderer Seeks New Trial

In January 2006, James Boughton Jr. of Chesapeak, Virginia murdered Mormon missionary Elder Morgan W. Young and shot his missionary companion Elder Joshua Heidbrink. Boughton shot the two missionaries because he feared hat may have witnessed him attempt to shoot a nearby person after a drug deal went bad.

In December 2008, Boughton was convicted of first-degree murder, malicious wounding, attempted malicious wounding and three counts of use of a firearm and was sentenced to 38 years.
Boughton alleges juror misconduct during his three week trial. Before Chesapeak Circuit Court Judge Randy Smith on Friday, Boughton’s attorney Andrew Sacks said a juror complained to other panel members about defense tactics. The judge did not immediately rule on the motion but said that he would issue a written ruling in several weeks.

Guns and Beer go Hand in Hand in Arizona


Arizona just passed a law allowing patrons to bring handguns into bars. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the bill into law this past Monday. The new law requires any bar owners who don’t want their patrons to be drinking and packin’ to post a sign next to their liquor license banning weapons. Otherwise, patrons are free to bring in their pistols.

What? Bar owners don’t want their patrons drinking while carrying concealed weapons? What could they possibly be afraid of? Loud, obnoxious, rude, crude, angry and violent customers with loaded weapons?

Thanks to Claustrophonic for the picture and yes it was taken in Arizona.

New alcohol laws take effect in Utah

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the new Utah state alcohol laws that took effect last week. While none of the blog’s current contributors live in Utah, it’s impossible to ignore the role that the Mormon Church has played in alcohol control policy in the state where a majority of the residents are at least nominally adherents to the faith. The new Utah laws abandon the 40-year-old requirement that bar patrons fill out an application, pay a fee and become a member of a private club. The private club rules were a quintessentially Utah oddity for many years, but they were most noticed during the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

I’ve never quite understood the rationale of the private club rule. By most accounts, the rule was not much of a barrier to drinking, and in some parts of the state (such as Park City) it wasn’t even enforced. So the private club rule doesn’t appear to have restricted alcohol consumption. It seems to have had more of a social stigma function, requiring drinkers to be “on a list.” In that respect, the updated law hasn’t changed much. The Associated Press reports:

The [Mormon] Church has always helped shape alcohol policy here, and the change to the law this year was no different. Only after consultation with church leaders and an agreement that DUI penalties would be stiffened, did lawmakers make progress on the changes.
As part of the agreement, Utah also became the only state in the country to require bars to scan the ID of anyone who appears to be 35 or younger to ensure their ID is valid. Bars store the information for a week so law enforcement can inspect it.
Anyone who has an ID that doesn’t properly scan is required to fill out a form logging their presence at the bar.

Utah alcohol laws still have quite a few quirks. That same AP article notes that flavored malt beverages may not be sold at grocery or convenience stores, the percentage of alcohol in beer is capped at 3.2%, happy hours are illegal, and cocktails must be mixed out of the sight of customers.

As a policy matter, I think the new law is at least a step in the right direction, particularly the harsher DUI penalties. I would rather see some more creative solutions, such as those that I discussed earlier this year involving alcohol tax equal to the average marginal social cost of each drink.

Holy Spirit lawsuits

I live in the Southeastern United States, where Mormons are a small minority compared to other evangelical denominations. One comment I have heard from people who visited my church for the first time is how different the services are from some other churches. Many of these first-time visitors to LDS church meetings are struck by the absence of church bands, congregational utterances (“Amen!“), or public displays of spiritual experiences. The Mormon concept of “Holy Spirit” is a much more subdued affair than in some evangelical denominations, where fainting, convulsions, and speaking in tongues are not uncommon.

It turns out that the Mormon approach has at least one advantage: less injuries. One of my favorite legal blogs, Kevin Underhill’s excellent Lowering the Bar, has recently reported on a couple personal injury suits arising from incidents in churches where a congregant was “taken by the Holy Spirit” and fell backwards. Apparently this is a common enough occurrence that the congregations have “catchers” ready to catch the falling people, but they don’t always work. In one case the catchers dropped the falling man, and in another case, the falling person injured one of the catchers. Yikes! Who knew going to church could be so dangerous? Fortunately, most Mormons are only in danger of falling asleep during a long-winded talk on High Council Sunday.

Photo credit: Riveroyster.