The article, “Study Shows Why Lawyers Are So Smart” published in last week’s Wall Street Journal supports something my father, a lawyer, has been telling me for years, “Law school teaches you how to think.”
Apparently, neuroscientists at the UC Berkeley conducted a study demonstrating that studying for the LSAT is, among other things, reasoning training. By spending 100 hours over the course of three months preparing for the LSAT, individuals strengthened the connection between the right and left hemispheres of their brain and even boosted their IQ scores. Many lawyers have suspected as much for some time and now it appears to have been confirmed – lawyers really are smarter.
While it would be in my best interests to simply agree with the article, I studied and sat for the LSAT after all, I find it more or less unconvincing. I have more questions than answers.
First, isn’t it possible that any intensive study might improve an individual’s reasoning ability and increase IQ? What sort of impact would the GMAT, GRE, or MCAT have on reasoning ability? Is the impact on IQ limited to intensive study for entrance exams exclusively? Is reasoning ability immune to 100 hours of painting, building birdhouses, public speaking, intense exercise, or trying your hand at empathy? Much of the science on how to think creatively would seem to undercut the LSAT’s monopoly on improved IQ.
Second, the study seems to bundle intelligence, reasoning ability, academic performance, and professional success in a demanding career into one big interwoven basket. While linking these elements certainly appeals to those of us who have taken the LSAT or otherwise have high IQs, it is belied by a more comprehensive view of professional achievement. Research shows us that a professional’s skill in human engineering (i.e. an individual’s personality and ability to communicate, negotiate, and lead) accounts for as much as 85% of a person’s financial success. Given the importance of skills that have very little to do with reasoning ability and cognitive activity, I can’t help but wondering how much the LSATs perceived benefits ultimately matter. Essentially, high IQ and great reasoning skills alone – count for nothing. Once you reach a modicum of professional success people rarely critique you for deficient reasoning skills. Alternatively, they will criticize you for being incapable of bringing in business, inspiring team members, and creating a vision of success. Does the LSAT boost your score in these areas? If not, the study addresses an unimportant question.
Perhaps the most insightful reaction to the article can be found in the responses I received after circulating it to colleagues. While I did get one, “Agreed,” I received many more responses which reflected an “I am not so sure lawyers are so smart” attitude such as, “In light of some of the behavior I’ve seen lately, I question the test group comps.” Others commented with, “Somehow I still feel stupid all the time!” and “Always knew I was altered by this job, just didn’t realize it might be in a good way.”
It seems that I am not the only one who questioned the survey’s results and its significance.