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October 24, 2008

Are You An Ape Climbing A Ladder To Get A Banana?

Jordan Furlong, my favorite 'editor' on the internet because he is just so progressive and right about so many things in the legal profession, wrote a great post called 'Dispelling the Myths of Lawyer Education".  Relating this true story (or parable) is appropriate when describing what most new law grads experience when they tell others they want to go solo:

http://img.thesun.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00400/snn0739b682_400816a.jpgThere’s an old story about a supposed experiment in which five apes are placed in a cage containing a stepladder. A banana is hanging from the roof of the cage, and a sprinkler with ice-cold water is positioned above it. Whenever an ape tries to climb the ladder to get the banana, the sprinkler comes on and drenches all the apes until the ambitious ape abandons the effort. Eventually, after numerous attempts and soakings, the apes learn to avoid the ladder altogether. Then the sprinkler is turned off completely.

Now one of the apes is replaced with a new ape, who, not surprisingly, heads straight for the stepladder to get the banana. The other apes set upon him immediately, beating and shoving him until he gives up — even though the water never comes on. Then another replacement ape arrives, and when he tries to get the banana, the other apes attack him — including the previous new ape who has never been soaked! Eventually, five new apes who’ve never been showered with ice water will nonetheless avoid the stepladder and the banana. And that, the story goes, is where policy comes from — that’s the way we’ve always done it around here.

The post further discusses why law schools are doggedly adhering to a flawed measurement system which doesn't get the results it should simply because 'this is the way we've always done it' regardless of strong empirical evidence that says the way they are doing it is not predictive of success.  In fact, it's just flat out wrong.

So here’s what we have: evidence, often compelling, that:

  1. LSAT scores don’t tell you much about whether someone will be a good law student,
  2. Publishing credentials don’t tell you anything about whether someone will be a good law professor, and
  3. Law school marks don’t tell you anything about whether someone will be a good lawyer.

And...The strongest predictor of success was between Lawyering Skills grade and class rank (0.57).

And yet LSAT scores, law professor credentials and law school marks remain the three most significant criteria employed within the lawyer training system. Apes in a cage.

Please read the full article here which also includes links to the studies referenced.

It's also a compelling argument, in my opinion, not to stress out over getting into the highest ranked law school.  More important to get into the law school which is best for your personal situation.

However, for this post I'm going to extrapolate this data for the solo practitioner.

Are you an ape chasing a banana?  How many people are telling you it is nearly impossible to hang a shingle right out of law school?  Are they beating you up over it even though 'the sprinkler is off' meaning conditions have changed or better yet, their experience and or simply their fears based upon another's experience do not have to be yours!  Yet people are harping on the old ways and not getting the banana because someone else told them the banana cannot be had without getting wet?

if you want to be a solo practitioner, don't pay attention to the other legal apes. And if you missed the highlighted portion of the article.....did you see the strongest predictor of success was in no small part Lawyering Skills obtained in law school.

If you are a law student and have ambitions to go solo, climb the ladder even if others tell you you'll get wet. Take as many practical skills classes as you can.  Chart your course with classes that provide every day knowledge, clinics, externships, internships, summer positions paid or unpaid with practicing attorneys where you can actually observe and learn in the trenches.  This is what will help you have options once you get out. 

Um. I think I'm in the mood for a banana :-)

(And in case you didn't see, check out our recent faculty announcements at Solo Practice University.

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Kimberly Alderman

My favorite movies are the original Planet of the Apes (and, shh... Tank Girl). The first has talking apes and the second talking kangaroos. So this post really spoke to me!

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