Stealing the Esq.

Adjuncts versus full Professors

Most law students I’ve met don’t actually know the difference between an Esq and a JD. A Juris Doctor is the degree you get when you graduate, the honorific Esquire signifies that you passed the bar in at least one jurisdiction. You don’t get to call yourself John Q. Smith Esq. until you pass the bar.

I had never heard the phrase ‘stealing the esquire’ until I was working at my internship. It is used pejoratively in reference to law professors who call themselves Esquire while never having really worked in the field (or passed the bar).

I had a patents professor who was ineligible to sit for the patent bar, had never worked with patents, and never even worked in a law firm which prosecuted any IP / PTO paperwork. My contracts professor had never left law school… they graduated many many years ago and started teaching at law school pretty much immediately, apparently having never taken the bar anywhere. These are the people the law school has advising you on what to do with your career. The advice I received from my professors on how I should approach and steer my legal career was without fail, 110% wrong. (I point a very accusing finger towards the IP dept at my law school with this comment).

On the flip side of this, the Admiralty adjunct was a MLA Proctor who had worked for years in the merchant marine before becoming an attorney. I had an adjunct for a class in Cardpayment / Electronic payments who was corporate counsel for one of the largest electronic payments processing banks in the US. The foreign real estate adjunct was the many year former head of International Real Estate at one of the largest firms in the world. In short… they knew their shit.

So here’s the take away message from all of this… Unlike graduate programs in Classics or Literature, Law is a professional program much like an MBA; it assumes a non-academic endgame. Law Professors are wonderful at being able to rehash the material from a casebook, write journal articles and the odd casebook – in other words they are academics. The reason the professors at my law school liked to say they were teaching us ‘to think like lawyers, not how to be a lawyer’ is because they didn’t know how to be lawyers. But adjuncts have actually worked in the field, and likely are still working in the field and keep abreast of the current developments in their niche. (And on top of all that, adjuncts get paid nearly nothing to teach you.) Which one do you think you should listen to for career advice?

You want to stump the admissions director of any law school with a question? Ask how many of their professors hold an active bar license in your state. The answer is more important than you think.

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