At first blush, it seems like an impossibly sweeping question. Could the entire class of first year law students this year be somehow less intelligent than previous classes of 1Ls?

The short answer is no. They can’t be. It can’t be possible that the national collection of new law students is any more or less able than the classes immediately preceding them. That just wouldn’t make sense.

And yet… from where I sit this new crop of 1Ls is certainly talking like they are dumber than those who came before. And when I asked this question on Twitter, a number of people offered credible macro theories supporting the thought that this year’s 1Ls are dumber. And there’s a WSJ article that adds some statistics that fit in with the Twitter theory.

So, I mean, it’s at least possible that this year’s 1Ls are just not of the same caliber as previous classes…

I have a fairly unique perspective on the classes of 1Ls. This is the fourth year I’ve been able to observe the 1Ls first reaction to the ATL machine.

The stories coming out of the 1L class this year are no different than previous years. Consider this week’s story about the 1L who emailed an obsequious letter to all of the 2Ls on law review at his school. Just about every year a fresh 1L does something stupid like this, we scold him, and the world moves on.

But this year, there were a number of other 1Ls defending this behavior. The older people are saying “we don’t like this approach to networking” and the 1Ls are screaming back “yes you do.” That’s intelligent? Or look at the story where those UVA kids were caught talking crap about a hiring partner at an airport. There we saw 1Ls arguing that an airport was a perfectly appropriate place to have a private conversation talking s*** about people they’ve interviewed with. Your balls aren’t private in an airport, but the 1Ls this year seem to think that simply screaming about what they wish to be true will make it somehow true.

My friends tell me that I shouldn’t be surprised. When I posed this question on Twitter, people flooded me with anecdotes about how, yes, the 1Ls seem dumber. My favorite tweet on the subject:

Ours actually are, one of the professors told them they aren’t smart enough for her to teach with humor.

Tell me about it. The inability 1Ls this year to get or take a joke is really obvious to me.

According to the people on Twitter, there’s a reason for all of this. The consensus argument is that this year’s 1Ls decided to go to law school despite overwhelming evidence that the effort was a risky investment. The class of 2014 has had every opportunity to learn about the high cost of tuition and weak job market. The truth about law school was all around them when they made their decision to matriculate to law school.

And many potential 1Ls decided to not go to law school. Yesterday, the WSJ Law Blog reported:

[T]he final application tally for the fall ’11 class reveals an almost 10% drop in the number of applicants, the steepest decline in at least 10 years.

It’s possible, right, that those who would have been in the top ten percent had they matriculated are the ones who decided not to go to law school. They were the ones who could read the warning signs and come up with better, less economically ruinous options.

This year’s 1Ls represent who was left. The people who either didn’t know, didn’t care or didn’t have anything better to do.

Despite this circumstantial evidence, I can’t actually believe that the 1Ls are just dumber than other classes. Maybe the ones who are left are more resistant to facts and additional information than previous classes. Maybe the current 1Ls are more scared and humorless because they know they’ve taken a huge risk in coming to law school in the first place. But it doesn’t make sense that an entire nation of students would be dumber than the ones who just finished.

Maybe it just feels that way?

What do you guys think? Take our reader poll below.

Are the 1Ls dumber this year?

  • Yes. (76%, 1,321 Votes)
  • No. (24%, 415 Votes)

Total Voters: 1,729

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Bloom’s Off Law School Rose [WSJ Law Blog]

Earlier: How 1Ls Should NOT Approach Peer Networking


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