News that the relative intelligence of the legal profession could be in decline sparked a storm of debate on TheLawyer.com
The study, carried out by the Centre for Market and Public Organisation (CMPO) at Bristol University, suggested that lawyers have moved closer to average intelligence over the past 12 years.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, many readers found this difficult to swallow. “The law employs, as it has always done, the finest minds in the City,” protested one commenter.
Others were more circumspect. “I think it’s about right. I went to law school after being addicted to Ally McBeal,” admitted an anonymous poster.
So have lawyers dumbed down during the past decade, and what does this research say about the intellectual state of the profession?
Far from poking a mocking finger at young lawyers, the study was carried out for a specific purpose. Researchers wanted to look into the barriers apparently preventing many people from poorer backgrounds from making it into certain careers.
The Government’s new social mobility supremo Alan Milburn has admitted that “too few youngsters from comprehensive schools are becoming lawyers, doctors or army officers”.
The first defence of any law firm or chambers when confronted with this fact is that they hire purely on merit, regardless of background.
The CMPO study challenges this argument. It found that, although the comparative wealth of lawyers’ parents had increased between the two study groups – born in 1958 and 1970 – their scores in IQ tests had moved closer to the average.
BPP College principle Carl Lygo argues that a relative fall in ability might not be such a bad thing.
“This doesn’t surprise me,” he says. “Opportunities are widening – there are all kinds of people out there who need all kinds of different lawyers.”
He points to the growing number of people embarking on a law career, adding: “The law doesn’t need to be the preserve of the elite.”
Many readers questioned why these two dates were important and why they are relevant to the profession today. The simple answer is that they happen to be the years in which the two largest surveys of professions began.
Researchers tracked some 18,000 people from birth to age 34, recording vital data along the way. The 1970 group is the latest study (apart from one carried out in 2000, which is of little use when analysing today’s lawyers). The results of the 1970 survey were only released a couple of years ago and it was not until this year that the data was broken down by ability and income for each profession. The participants of the 1970 survey are now well established in law firms and chambers, making this the best data available, given that large-scale economic studies are thin on the ground.
Average IQ rates
Other comments on the story asked how the IQ scores were measured and why many professions had seen a drop in relative intelligence.
The average score of 100 does not refer to actual IQ, which would leave lawyers with an alarming average IQ of just 108.
It is a standardised mean based on a range of tests on literacy, numeracy and general ability. A difference of 8 per cent in scoring amounts to a much greater difference in actual intelligence.
As for why so many relative IQs dropped in so many professions, the research does not speculate. It is possible that the average person in the UK is now better educated than in the past, but it is difficult to prove either way.
If, as this research suggests, the law now calls on a broader range of abilities than in the past, this should be welcomed. As many posters pointed out, IQ is not the only measure of intelligence.
Whether it will be welcomed by the legal profession or not is a different matter. After all, ignorance is bliss.
Your reaction on TheLawyer.com to the debate over the relative drop in lawyers’ IQs. (NB: all punctuation and spelling are the posters’ own.)
“This is just another example of The Lawyer’s shockingly casual Communist approach to life, associating high incomes and wealth with stupidity.
It is outrageous to make such a claim.”
Date: 27 February @ 14:42. From: Major Misunderstanding
“That’s because in the 50s, only law students could become lawyers but now any Tom Denis and Harry can become a lawyer with any old degree or by having a rather pompous family member who is a lawyer and weaving their way into the legal system which might I add, used to be for those with the brains.”
Date: 27 February @ 14:56. From: City Lawyer
“I would love to see a journalist negotiate the terms
of a simple, bilateral loan.The law employs, as it has always done, the finest minds in the City.”
Date: 27 February @ 15:08. From: Anonymous
“I would love to see lawyers negotiate the terms of a single bilateral (writer-reader) text without deliberate obfuscation as a means of making money.”
Date: 27 February @ 15:31. From: Proust
Quote: “Lawyers in the earlier group scored 11 per cent better than the average, but the 1970 group were just 8 per cent more intelligent.” I always thought the average IQ score was 100. On that basis the average lawyer’s score would now be 108. The standard deviation for IQ is 15, which means 67% of the population have an IQ between 85 and 115. This means: either (a) lawyers are of ‘normal’ intelligence; or (b) the average in the study is not 100. Does anyone know what the average was?
Date: 27 February @ 16:09. From: Anonymous
“IQ is no longer seen as the main measure of intelligence by most leading educational psycholgists. Please see Daniel Coleman’s ‘Emotional Intelligence’, or Howard Gardner (Harvard School of Education) ‘Frames of Mind’. Research has shown that high IQ alone does NOT mark people out for ‘success’.”
Date: 27 February @ 16:55. From: Anonymous
“A number of you are shockingly stupid, and by rising to the bait and publishing such moronic remarks you have merely confirmed the finding that there are an increasing number of stupid people in the profession. “
Date: 27 February @ 19:44. From: Em
“I think its about right… I went to law school after being addicted to Ally McBeal! Stupid or what.”
Date: 2 March @ 17:18. From: Anonymous
“I’ve worked with some of the most hopeless and lazy [lawyers] around, every last one of them thought they were fantastic and made sure everyone heard it.”
Date: 4 March @ 14:35. From: BlatantAbuse