Engineering and Law Comment Thread:
Oops — Thanks to reader e-mail, I just learned that I had accidentally turned off comments on my post yesterday about the differences between studying engineering and law. (I drafted most of this post several weeks ago, and for some reason the VC software seems to set comments to closed when you put a draft in storage for a while. I know this has happened before, but once again I forgot about it.) Anyway, I have just opened comments, so comment away, throw rotten fruit, etc., if you're interested. Sorry about the confusion.

  One more thought; please note that the topic of the post is the difference between studying engineering and studying law, not the difference between practicing engineering and practicing law. That is, I'm trying to explore how a student encounters the two subjects; that's the question that I often receive from prospective law students who are/were engineering students in college. How the two two fields differ from a practitioner's perspective is a terrific question, but wasn't what I was getting at in my post. (Of course, feel free to discuss it in the comment thread if you find it interesting.)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Engineering and Law Comment Thread:
  2. Studying Engineering and Studying Law:
(I also posted this in the other thread.)

I'm both an engineer and a lawyer (I chose my moniker in my excitement shortly after passing the bar exam, but ironically my main *occupation* is still in engineering.)

I do have to respectfully disagree with some of Professor Kerr's points (at least in emphasis, if not necessarily in substance). While I'd agree that *natural* science is concerned predominantly with "what is," I would suggest that *engineering* is also eminently concerned with what man can *create* (albeit while utilizing and applying the "what is" part). In my experiences at least, many meetings, seminars, etc. often do involve philosophical or "subjective" types of discussions regarding everything from what kinds of problems we should seek to solve, to how "best" to approach solving them, to even what general direction in which to nudge the field/subfield. I believe much of today's technology is in fact the way it is because of strategic judgements and choices that engineers make at the research, conception, and design stages of product/process development. (I sometimes wonder whether the law-fact dichotomy in legal study might be somewhat analogous to the relationship between these and the underlying principles of math and science.)

As an aside, I have noticed an interesting contrast in how people's minds seem to process technical/quantitative information vs. the more abstract/qualitative concepts of law. I'm not sure whether either is "harder" per se, because I've met people in *both* fields who cannot seem to grasp the other's type of reasoning nearly as well as their own. (Then again, it could largely be a matter of acclimation -- in which case the point about having proven one's general mental toughness is very apt!)

One might suspect the notion of *physicality* is a major (perhaps even defining) distinction, but indeed many fields of engineering -- systems/optimization, (some) industrial engineering and operational logistics, mathematical modeling, etc. -- can seem more conceptual than concrete (although still quantitatively analytical). Granted, their *implications* are typically physical, but then again so are the law's. In these cases, I tend to think of "legal reasoning" and "mathematical logic" as providing somewhat comparable foundations for man's creativity...

Perhaps on a more normative level, I do think that the disparity probably *shouldn't* be nearly as dichotomized as it often is -- because, at least from a more originalist/formalist perspective, I'd like to see more of the "what is" getting asked than the "what can we make it." (This is different for policymakers, of course, where boundless creativity can often be a virtue.) This also gets into linguistic philosophies, of course (and by the way, some of my friends in computer science tell me of some pretty fascinating cross-disciplinary work going on between CS and linguistics.)

Finally (and perhaps this might be a difference between the study and the practice?), I would also observe that there can indeed be considerable "uncertainty" and "ambiguity" in engineering as well (much to our frequent frustration!); it just tends to take somewhat different forms, and have different implications...
6.8.2007 1:09pm
you can post comments here now, but just fyi: the main page comment link still says that an error occurred; sounds like an engineering problem.
6.8.2007 1:13pm
badger (mail):
Thank you for the interesting post. I am an engineer planning on going to law school. What do you think is the best way for an engineer to market him or herself to a school?
6.8.2007 1:14pm
I have a similar background and thought it was a great post, but I didn't have much to add. I've always thought that the pain threshold and the logical thinking were the two major benefits of engineering school that helped me in law school.

The major drawback of an engineering background for law school, I think, is that engineers often get less practice writing than their peers. This isn't true for everyone, of course, and it can be taken care of in other ways, but by and large engineers tend not to be very good writers. On the other hand, in humanities classes, people can often get away with writing the sort of BS that wouldn't fly in law school, and to the extent that engineers have fewer opportunities to pick up this bad habit, that may be a plus.

On the ambiguity point, I think the original post was spot-on. I'd only add that engineers (perhaps more so than "pure" science types) often have to deal with the differences between man-made constructs and reality. One example is the familiar situation where the actual device fails to work as well as the computer simulation (which fails to account adequately for friction, parasitics, minor imperfections in the building materials, etc.) said it would.

Perhaps engineering prepares one better for rules-based classes than other things, but as long as one's undergrad curriculum isn't 90% engineering, then I think it's great preparation for law school.
6.8.2007 1:24pm
I forgot about the writing issue, but yes, that is huge. Technical Communication (TC) is an important skill that some engineering programs are focusing a lot more on now, but there's still a lot of resistance from many students who often don't realize they need to be able to communicate in order to be effective!
6.8.2007 1:28pm
jallgor (mail):
I am not an engineer so maybe someone will tell you differently but I think there is generally little opportunity to "market" yourself in any fashion to a law school. 99% of the decision making in admissions is done based LSAT and GPA. It's actually something I have always noticed about patent lawyers. They often don't get into the better law schools (obviously I am speaking in generalities here) because their undergrad degrees are often more challenging and it is difficult for them to graduate with a high GPA.
My advice to someone who knows they want to go to law school and doesn't have their heart set on being a patent attorney is to take the easiest undergrad major they can find and ace it. It's not fair but there are is no "degree of difficulty" factored into your GPA.
6.8.2007 1:33pm
MS (mail):

Are you sure? I always thought that degree of difficulty was considered, at least I've heard professors discuss as much during admissions season. Indeed, I seriously doubt that I would have been admitted at my law school if they hadn't looked at my 3.5 GPA through the lens of my engineering degree.
6.8.2007 1:42pm
There's a lot of lip service about non-GPA/LSAT factors, but in reality I believe those are indeed the predominant two.
6.8.2007 1:44pm
"There's an objective truth that can be and has been proven by experiment: either the beam will bend .2479 inches under the stress load X or it won't. . . . Law is man-made, and has all the uncertainty and open texture of any human endeavor."

I do not buy this distinction. Engineering isn't mathematics or physics -- it isn't at all about finding "objective truth." It is about creating objects or systems that people use. A drawbridge isn't built for its own sake, but to allow people to cross the river while allowing boats to cross underneath it. Good engineers understand that the world and humans are random and error-prone, and design whatever they are building (whether it is a bridge, a telecommunications system, or a computer) accordingly.
6.8.2007 1:51pm
Stephen C. Carlson (www):
As an engineer who went to law school, I tend to agree with Kerr's observations. I also agree that the main disadvantage is the lack of writing practice.

I am an engineer planning on going to law school. What do you think is the best way for an engineer to market him or herself to a school?

High GPA and high LSAT scores.
6.8.2007 1:54pm
Technical Communication (TC) is an important skill that some engineering programs are focusing a lot more on now, but there's still a lot of resistance from many students who often don't realize they need to be able to communicate in order to be effective!

Whaaaat? For the more pure science types (like me), you plot the data and label the axes. For the engineering types, you make the drawing and label with "Must comply with MIL-TFD-41." What's to communicate?

6.8.2007 1:56pm
"What's to communicate?"

I take it by the smileyface it's a joke, as we all know how "fun" it is to struggle through a poorly-written journal article or poster/presentation, an inarticulate research talk, or a awkwardly-formatted visual aid.

As I said, that's what the college "Tech Comm" departments are for, and they're certainly helping...

6.8.2007 2:02pm
Oh, and don't get me started on design reports! LOL...
6.8.2007 2:07pm
Oh yeah. I had to learn-by-doing, as my grad school time ended before Tech Comm took off.
6.8.2007 2:08pm
As an electrical engineer and attorney, I echo everything Orin said. Law school was a breeze compared to EE. The logical problem-solving approach of engineers works well on law school exams. Although it is true that many (most?) engineers cannot write worth a damn, engineers generally benefit in law school from a straight-forward writing style. Maybe some engineers have trouble with there being no right answer to most questions, but I think that problem is overstated.
6.8.2007 2:12pm
I have a computer science degree. While it isn't exactly an engineering degree, it is close enough for my purposes. I think that one big distinction in the technical fields is that the tests only have one right answer, and you have to show your work. While all of my first year law school exams were essay, they too required that you show your work, and that you get the right answer. The later years were a little more flexible on the right answer part.

I also found that my experience programming made Civ Pro very easy. Working through the procedure of a case is just like stepping trough an algorithm. For that matter, the logical structure learned in programming helped in outlining all of my exam answers.
6.8.2007 2:12pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
No disagreements with anyone above. The two biggest differences I saw were ambiguity and writing.

Cliff makes a good point - procedural classes are a snap with a CS background. My highest grades were there, including Am Juring in two of them.

I am a patent attorney and find that patent law is a really strange beast, given the intersection of law on the one side and science/ technology on another. Because patent law is very much based on case law, there is a lot of ambiguity. On the other hand, the science and technology is more discrete. I have noticed somewhat of a tendency for those who jump straight from undergraduate school to law school without an intervening engineering career to handle the ambiguity better, but be weaker on the engineering side, whereas the opposite seems to prevail for those who had significant engineering careers first. I would futher suggest that I can usually pick out which is the case fairly quickly upon meeting a patent attorney - whether he is a lawyer with an engineering background, or an engineer with a law degree.
6.8.2007 2:39pm
Alan Gunn:
I'm surprised by the many suggestions that engineers are likely to have trouble writing in law school. My undergraduate major was geophysics, at a school where I could take only one non-technical course a semester. Writing in law school didn't bother me or my few classmates with similar backgrounds. The lawyers I know who do have trouble writing have that trouble, I think, mostly because they try to substitute nice words for real understanding. Whatever the drawbacks of a technical education, one can't seriously maintain that it encourages its recipients to engage in bullshit. Alas, one can't say the same thing about all liberal arts education.

While I no longer read real technical journals or books, I do read a lot of low-level technical stuff about aviation. Almost all of it is better organized and more straightforward than most of what I encounter in the law reviews. Aviation writers do have a lot of trouble with apostrophes, but so do a good many lawyers, these days.
6.8.2007 2:45pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I'm surprised by the many suggestions that engineers are likely to have trouble writing in law school. My undergraduate major was geophysics, at a school where I could take only one non-technical course a semester. Writing in law school didn't bother me or my few classmates with similar backgrounds. The lawyers I know who do have trouble writing have that trouble, I think, mostly because they try to substitute nice words for real understanding. Whatever the drawbacks of a technical education, one can't seriously maintain that it encourages its recipients to engage in bullshit. Alas, one can't say the same thing about all liberal arts education.
This may be partially a function of timing. I don't know when you graduated with your technical degree(s), but I do remember back in the early 1970s about engineers who could graduate with a single English course under their belts, with no history, etc. My understanding is that writing, esp. technical writing, has been greatly strengthened in engineering schools since then.
6.8.2007 2:49pm
Zathras (mail):
I had a graduate physics degree before law school, and I can echo a lot of the observations made above. The Civ Pro-type classes were very much a snap to me. They were easily my highest grades. The overall workload was also certainly much easier in law school

The difference in writing styles, however, was a problem for me. In physics or in math, the writing is extremely terse. The reader is expected to be able to develop the implications of the skeleton written. In law school, as well as in the practice of law, everything has to be fully developed.

Now that I am doing more interdisciplinary work, I have to be very aware of my audience. For example, I recently wrote a 30 page paper for a management journal. The same paper would have been 5-7 pages tops in a science journal.

This dichotomy shows the difference between the fields. It is okay to let the reader develop the details if there is only one way the details to go. In the law, you have to develop all of the details so the reader gets exactly where you want him to get.
6.8.2007 2:51pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I ran into the opposite problem that most do here, as I needed more engineering, etc. courses after law school to sit for the patent bar. At the time, the USPTO wasn't accepting CS classes, and that is where my technical education and experience had been. As a result, I took a year of engineering after law school, and at first, it was a bit weird. When you are figuring out a circuit, the prof didn't want a lot of "it depends", but rather a one number answer. The voltage between point A and point B on the circuit was X volts. Our job was to find X. His job was to vary the input parameters.

Another thing that was a bit weird was that the engineering profs didn't want to argue hypotheticals, esp. in class. Another thing that was hard to adjust to was that much of the learning in law school is conceptual. Much of the learning, esp. in the lower division engineering courses I took, was practical. The theory wasn't hard, just doing similar problems using the same technique hundreds of times until it was automatic - that was what was hard for me.
6.8.2007 2:59pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
The difference in writing styles, however, was a problem for me. In physics or in math, the writing is extremely terse. The reader is expected to be able to develop the implications of the skeleton written. In law school, as well as in the practice of law, everything has to be fully developed.
That reminds me of an abstract algebra course I had as an undergraduate. The prof was trying to teach us how to be scholars or something, so required a paper. I managed to condense much of my linear algebra class into a bunch of equations that filled maybe five pages, and got an A on the paper. Interestingly, we could have typed a 40 page history paper faster, since the equations were so time consuming to type. (This isn't really the case as much any more, at least with the patent applications I write, since the MSFT Equation Editor I use in Word is fairly fast).
6.8.2007 3:07pm
Alan Gunn:
Bruce Hayden:

Got my B.S. in 1961. I did take a fair number of English courses, though they weren't heavy on writing. But in those days, one was expected to learn to write in high school.

Zathras does have a point about lawyers having to learn to spell things out in great detail. I can remember, as an undergrad, making fun of technical articles on the ground that they dealt with difficult issues by saying things like, "It is intuitively obvious to the most casual observer that ...." Still, many law students come from backgrounds that teach them that finding the right adjective is the heart of thinking. Engineers and scientists don't get taught that. People who can think well aren't going to have a lot of trouble writing.

Perhaps the most annoying thing I was ever asked in law school was whether I had to take some special test to make sure that I had learned some of the things I'd missed out on as an undergrad because of having a technical education. This from someone who had no clue about what Einstein had contributed to human thought. To this day, I know only one other lawyer who has even done his own oil changes; and I've never known one who knew how to solder. One of the fun things about starting law school was that I suddenly went from being a guy whose friends considered him somewhat inept at everyday chores to being Mr. Fix-it.
6.8.2007 3:11pm
Zathras (mail):
Alan Gunn: One of the fun things about starting law school was that I suddenly went from being a guy whose friends considered him somewhat inept at everyday chores to being Mr. Fix-it.

Ditto for me. It blew my mind that simply changing a sink faucet or doing basic computer tasks made be stand apart.

BTW, I can solder too--although my hand is not steady enough for me to be good at it.
6.8.2007 3:30pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
The fundamental difference between engineering and law is that in engineering, if a device, structure or system is not properly conceptualized, designed, fabricated, tested, developed and/or operated, it will collapse, explode, leak, or just sit there, failing to provide its intended benefit. In law, judges (whose word is the [decisional] law) can and do say some of the most appaling stuff of a kind that would earn a first-year law student a failing grade if there were such a thing. A few years ago, there was an actual debate in the pages of the Journal of Legal Education as to whether there even is such a thing as a wrong answer to a law exam question. Even the constitution that is supposed to be the supreme law of the land can receive wildly different interpretations in different circuits. As Professor Lino Graglia put it, the text of the constitution is irrelevant to the subject of constitutional law. Try operating an engineering concern on the premise that the first law of thermodynamics is irrelevant to its services or products. Go ahead, make my day
6.8.2007 3:32pm
Wilf Nixon (mail):
I think this is a most interesting topic. As an engineering professor (who also serves as an expert witness) I would tend to agree that engineering students likely have the high pain threshold they would need to survive law school (as was noted in the original article "If you survived diffies, civ pro is nothin'."
As far as writing skills, I think this will depend on the school a given student has attended. Our own school is very much focusing on helping students develop communication skills, because without them, as noted by Esquire, an engineer cannot be effective. When students are giving presentations or presenting reports, we try to get them to consider strongly their audience. If you are presenting to a city council, it will likely not help much if you use a lot of equations! In my own experience, most students today understand that (more so than they did ten years ago, at any rate).
I would differ somewhat with some of the final comments made by Orin, specifically:

Second, you need to learn to deal with ambiguity. Engineering offers certainty, at least subject to assumptions; if an equation describes how the world works, then it describes how the world actually works. You have certainty in the equation. But man-made processes are very different. Those rules are bound to have some areas of certainty and other areas of uncertainty, and you need to get used to it. You need to know how to identify when something is (or is not) uncertain and why...

When you get into engineering design, a lot of this certainty becomes rather nuanced. Yes, the underlying equations still hold, but you are trying to design a bridge that will meet the (often poorly expressed) needs of a client (who is often a rather amorphous entity such as a city). How should it look? Should you include places for pedestrians to sit and watch the world go by, and if so, what is a good design for such a place? I am unaware of any equations that express numerically the acceptability of a space for encouraging people to sit and pause... So, we too, as engineers, have to deal with some uncertainties similar to those that lawyers must address.
Thanks to all for some great comments, by the way.
6.8.2007 4:01pm
I also think that there are some interesting parallels between the "case" method of learning law and the "problem" method of learning engineering. In both cases, you learn from *examples* of prior applications -- from which the student is expected to extract, synthesize, and most importantly *adapt* that understanding to subsequent related situations.

Of course, this is a progression...a sophomore-level engineering exam will not have problems deviating from the in-class examples nearly as far as would a senior or graduate-level exam (with progressively increasing demands for independent thought).
6.8.2007 4:10pm
John S.:
I have just earned my undergraduate engineering degree and am hoping to go to law school at some point. I think it's interesting that Professor Kerr mentioned the normative element in law. That's precisely what's attracting me to law over engineering.

I was rather successful in my undergraduate career, but I don't feel like I've had enough writing experience to go into law school feeling confident about my writing skills. One thing I'm considering is getting a Master's degree in a non-engineering field before law school and focusing on practicing my writing during that time. Does that make any sense, or am I just insane? Is there any good reason to get a Master's before law school?
6.8.2007 8:12pm
PDXLawyer (mail):
I had an undergraduate engineering degree, and I found the transition to law school caused me a couple of problems.

First, I had no practice writing essay tests. Essay tests are far different from an engineering exam because they require one to not only making the correct analysis, but also explain why other possible ways of looking at it are incorrect. "Elegance" in the physical sciences is being concise, simple and direct. Although these are good things in practice, they don't give you such a hot grade on essay tests. I didn't even understand how essay tests were graded until my second semester in law school, and I found it very frustrating.

Second, I didn't understand how much of "success" in law school consists of things other than simply mastering the material and getting good grades. Law review, The Federalist Society and the like have no close counterparts in engineering school.

In sum, I think engineering school (and some engineering practice) is good preparation for the practice of law, but not good preparation for the study.
6.8.2007 8:24pm
skyywise (mail):
John S, I want to echo everything PDXLawyer wrote. My troubles in writing have nothing to do with the legal writing classes, I would have gotten an A both semesters if it weren't P/NP. In fact, the ability to concisely and clearly get to the point are what served me well, and are what will allegedly serve me well once I'm out practicing law. Essay exams are different, everyone competent knows the law, so professors have to see more ("stating the negative" and such as I wrote in the other thread) to differentiate students in terms of a grade. If you are really concerned about it, find a law school prep program for that purpose; even with my realization of what I was doing wrong on the exams first semester, I still haven't pulled it together to reflect a significantly better grade. (Which frustrates me more in my inability to adapt more than the format of the testing.)
6.8.2007 8:59pm
Alison N:
I majored in Electrical and Computer Engineering in college, worked for a few years, then went to law school. I think the choice of engineering classes makes a big difference in how prepared one is for law school.

Classes with a greater emphasis on writing, such as some project courses or technical writing courses teach the kind of rigorous writing appraoch needed in legal writing.

I took an engineering design seminar in which we designed a solution to a corporation that partnered with the university - that class taught a sense of pragmatism that comes in handy in lots of classes. Just as you often have to make sub-optimal decisions due to time and financial restraings, judges often twist the law to achieve the desired result (bad facts make bad law).

The comfort with numbers that engineers necessarily have make classes like tax and contracts easier. Even torts, where some students cringe at calculating B v. PL, is easier for one comfortable with math.

If an engineer takes any classes in formal logic (mostly applies to computer engineers and CS majors), this is a huge help in preparing for the LSAT and legal reasoning in general.

Not all engineers are prepared for the writing and mode of thinking in law school, but I think engineers who are comfortable with writing as well as logic, problem-solving, and math are very well prepared for law school.
6.8.2007 9:10pm
I agree with Zathras and Alan Gunn about getting used to spelling things out in greater detail. Exhaustive detail sometimes, I think. It drove me crazy at first, and I considered most legal writing to be seriously overwritten until I got used to the style.

But I think the bigger problem is that the programs teaching legal writing aren't organized by or for people with engineering or science backgrounds... or music backgrounds, for that matter. The literature majors end up as writing fellows, and they teach writing on the assumption that their students were literature majors too. They don't know how to translate for the benefit of people from other fields, and so those students have to invent their own translation schemes in order to master the material. I found it helpful to go around my writing fellow directly to the professor, who was more experienced and familiar with the problem.

My background is in life sciences, not engineering, but I definitely know how to solder. Even though I'm female, I might add... I learned how in order to make jewelry.
6.8.2007 9:34pm
The biggest difference for me was that, when walking out of an engineering exam, I knew how well I did. In law school, I had absolutely no clue. Everything just seemed arbitrary.

The other big difference, I suppose, is that I got my exams back in 3-4 days in engineering school, rather than in 3-4 months ;-)
6.8.2007 10:09pm
Rattan (mail):
I am an engineer and a lawyer. I also worked as a research scientist for several years. For me the big shock in law school was the need to provide made up facts (the legal facts) or to pretend something could be determined when it could not. Quite the opposite of ambiguity, it is the self satisfied certainty in law that surprised me.

As an example, I was aware that intent was only now getting to be addressable as an empirical matter. Law however has justified execution after flawed proceedings to decide something that really could not be determined empirically. There are all sort of strange cases about presumptions for determining intent or guilt. If only reality were so compliant.

The other thing that surprised me was the sort of arguments that pass for reasoning in making 'deductions' in law. Plainly incorrect fact finding is hard to correct in most courts as they are quick to presume correctness. One example is seen is in the review of arbitration decisions, where the rule is to not disturb the fact finding unless it is really an extreme case. The need to get to a decision often trumps the need for deliberate and introspective analysis.

I had to learn that the first determination of facts in your favor by a suitable authority triggers a really powerful presumption that even equity finds hard to shake.

The level of confidence many lawyers have in the legal process is quite astounding. Catch-22 is not a drawback but a venerated legal weapon.

Here is an example of a legal fiction that is respected by the IRS although analogy would suggest otherwise. IRS and most state tax authorities look down on employers treating employees as independent contractors -- primarily to avoid trust fund taxes. Now, just replace the 'contractor' moniker with a 'non-equity law firm partner,' and you have essentially a salaried employee being treated otherwise. Incongruously, this 'partner' designation opens the door to tax deductions not allowed to a common-law or statutory employee. The Service cooperates perfectly with the legal fiction of a non-equity partner that is routine in law firms big and small. Reporting a K-1 with 0% share of profits or losses does not trigger anything but a yawn. This, when the law in most circuits requires examination of the economic reality for deciding when is the designation of a partner proper. I wonder if the engineer/lawyer types have any thoughts on this glaringly common practice that conflicts with the very notion of partnership. Making partner is a goal many of the designation that engineer/lawyer types now seek or have achieved with great effort. Is there an exception for lawyers/physicians/accountants that allows them to routinely designate employees as partners?

I learnt that law school is plainly not as difficult as Engineering and Physics- just a lot stranger than the strangness of QED. Legal consistency and logical consistency are very different animals.
6.9.2007 1:44am
A professor of mine liked to call lawyers (at least the good ones) "institutional engineers", and I think that is about right. I also think it helps capture both sides of what Orin was arguing: on the one hand, lawyers share in common with engineers the need to analyze and solve problems in a practical context. On the other hand, engineers usually have the luxury of working with processes, materials, tools, machines, and so on that will do what the laws of nature dictate, whereas the lawyers have to deal with the infamous "human element".
6.9.2007 11:10am
jimbino (mail):

Another legal fiction that amuses me is the concept of the "sham marriage" that won't pass muster for getting your spouse immigration papers. The idea that the government can define a proper marriage confounds me. In the real, non-gummint-fantasy world, marriage is entered into for any one or more of a list of reasons that include love, power (Clintons), sex, procreation, cohabitation, decoration, money, migration, social climbing, leaving home, good housekeeping (Einstein), masking homosexuality, survival, etc.
6.9.2007 12:29pm
jimbino (mail):
I've read that special masters are particularly useful in cases involving technical matters, since judges are in general abysmally ignorant of science and math.

I am curious about the hard-science backgrounds of the sitting Supremes, but have had little luck finding out. What's a good source?
6.9.2007 1:50pm
jimbino (mail):
I was able to track down the background of the Supremes, and it seems as depressing as I imagined:

Roberts: History
Stevens: English Literature
O'Connor: Economics
Scalia: History
Kennedy: Economics
Souter: Philosophy
Thomas: English
Ginsburg: Government
Breyer: Economics
Alito: Public and International Affairs

Bottom of the barrel stuff, from a scientist's point of view! Though it should be pointed out that Breyer, when he was in high school, accumulated several math, science and debate awards!

The message is clear: you don't have to take a single math or science course to rise to the top, so why bother? I wonder how the presidents stack up? Jimmy Carter, probably the first to have been circumcised, must have had a math course.
6.9.2007 3:07pm
jimbino (mail):
It seems that the education of our recent presidents was equally abysmal, with the probable exception of Jimmy Carter.

John F. Kennedy: International Affairs
Lyndon B. Johnson: History and Social Science
Richard M. Nixon: History
Gerald R. Ford: Political Science and Economics
Jimmy Carter: Bachelor of Science
Ronald Reagan: Economics and Sociology (no degree)
George H.W. Bush: Economics
Bill Clinton: Foreign Service
George W. Bush: History
6.9.2007 3:59pm
Good finds, jimbino. And it sorta attacks the premise of Mr. Kerr's question. Rather than asking what engineers can do to adapt to law studies... we might ask what law studies can do to adapt to engineers? (given the dearth of STEM types in the law).

I guess I'm confounded by this claim that engineers can't write, and lawyers somehow can. Early on in my career, I had the recurrent task of spading through the CFR manure pile, and attempting to extract relevant portions of environmental and safety regulation for use in engineering consulting. These manure piles were presumably piled by junior lawyers not long out of their oh so rigorous finished-writing training. Now, yes, this is likely an HR issue, and we've simply chosen to have lawyers do what they're clearly unqualified to do (and to then go on in their careers with all this "scientific" "experience" they've garnered... to the bench... to wherever). But why are they unqualified? Could it be that not enough writing is coming forth from those with the proper background? And are we doing what we should be doing, to get those qualified folks into these slots?

Many years ago, it was expected that academics would have familiarity if not command of a broad range of knowledge. Have we diverged so much, that this is no longer the case? Is it time to reestablish this confluence? Even in this country, just 200 years ago, the Founders were a broad-based lot. Jefferson particularly, as we know, in the law and science for sure, to a degree that Kennedy once commented famously to a group of award winning talent having dinner at the White House (my paraphrase): "This is the greatest collection of intellectural talent to ever gather at a White House table, other than when Thomas Jefferson ate alone."

How about we stop figuring out how to squeak engineers through the blowfunk system that's scorned the economic "writing style" and approach they employ, and take a look in the mirror and see how that style might best be fitted back into the mainstream of this stunted profession, as we once did, inshallah Jefferson allah?
6.11.2007 12:58pm
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6.18.2007 9:30pm