math based analytical thinking and the law
 downing
 Posts: 272
 Joined: Tue Jul 20, 2010 2:03 am
math based analytical thinking and the law
This is a question I've had for law school students who majored in mathematics or any of the mathheavy sciences during undergrad. Basically, I would like to know if your math informed thinking has helped you navigate and understand legal texts, and thereby boost your academic performance in law school (or at least incline you toward insights that you believe derived from your capability with math). Being an English major with a minimal mathematical background, I won't be able to make any such observations myself.
 JoeFish
 Posts: 353
 Joined: Thu Apr 28, 2011 7:43 am
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
Let me get back to you in a year.
I mean, I believe my course of study (Math major, creative writing minor, philosophy minor) will help, but I'm biased towards... me. Almost everyone goes in thinking they're going to do really well. As a side note, I have heard it suggested (if I remember correctly, by an assistant dean of admissions) that math and hard science majors tend to slightly outperform their numbers, but this could've just been schmoozing or what you will.
Short Answer: I think it could help slightly, but so could lots of other things.
I mean, I believe my course of study (Math major, creative writing minor, philosophy minor) will help, but I'm biased towards... me. Almost everyone goes in thinking they're going to do really well. As a side note, I have heard it suggested (if I remember correctly, by an assistant dean of admissions) that math and hard science majors tend to slightly outperform their numbers, but this could've just been schmoozing or what you will.
Short Answer: I think it could help slightly, but so could lots of other things.
 GeePee
 Posts: 1273
 Joined: Fri Jul 03, 2009 7:35 pm
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
It helps. Doing, say, a basic analysis proof is strikingly similar to analyzing some legal issues in that you understand that even small steps in reasoning must be explained and shown in order to adequately prove the final result. However, unlike most math problems, you will not be searching for a specified final result; you'll be looking to analyze the path to all legally plausible final results.
I guess in this sense, proofs that require analysis of several different scenarios (e.g., certain problems in linear algebra where the dimension of the vector space bears on how the basis will behave) do some preparation for this type of analytical legal thinking.
On the other hand, some things that get you nowhere in mathematical reasoning are actually encouraged in legal reasoning. For example, on math exams it was hardly ever going to get you points to say that the special case your professor asked you to prove was similar to a standard case which would be proved easily. However, in law, many professors want you to distinguish situations in exactly that manner, especially when it comes to arguing and setting policy. Once I figured out that this was not something I should be avoiding, law school became even easier. This was evident in my grades (slightly above median first semester to more or less top grades second).
So, long story short, mathematical thinking gave me a tremendous edge in some regards and constrained me in others. However, once one learns how the constraints differ, I believe an analytical background can only help.
I guess in this sense, proofs that require analysis of several different scenarios (e.g., certain problems in linear algebra where the dimension of the vector space bears on how the basis will behave) do some preparation for this type of analytical legal thinking.
On the other hand, some things that get you nowhere in mathematical reasoning are actually encouraged in legal reasoning. For example, on math exams it was hardly ever going to get you points to say that the special case your professor asked you to prove was similar to a standard case which would be proved easily. However, in law, many professors want you to distinguish situations in exactly that manner, especially when it comes to arguing and setting policy. Once I figured out that this was not something I should be avoiding, law school became even easier. This was evident in my grades (slightly above median first semester to more or less top grades second).
So, long story short, mathematical thinking gave me a tremendous edge in some regards and constrained me in others. However, once one learns how the constraints differ, I believe an analytical background can only help.
 rayiner
 Posts: 6184
 Joined: Thu Dec 11, 2008 11:43 am
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
Discrete math helps a lot more than, say, calculus. I was a programmer before law school and it's extremely similar to law exam. One thing you do as a programmer is try and figure out an exhaustive set of states a system can be in. Many things may or may not be true at a given time, but somethings won't ever be true and some things can't be true at the same time as other things. This is a lot like fully exploring all of the alternatives presented by an application of laws to facts. In think programming is particularly helpful because it's openworld. A system can end up in many different states depending on input that isn't available until runtime. Programmers are forced to keep all these possibilities in their head, just like you have to on a legal exam.
 englawyer
 Posts: 1270
 Joined: Wed Feb 14, 2007 10:57 pm
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
+1 to what people have been saying. it is a good tool if used properly, but can also backfire.
engineering in particular trains you to simplify the situation to get the right answer (lets assume that fancyshaped pole with artistic work in it is a circular beam). professors grade you based on whether you got it "right" or not; often times the method you used to get to the answer doesn't matter, what matters is the solution (of course the method gives partial credit so its still important).
law is the complete opposite. no prof cares about the right answer (IE can the company be sued for negligence). Negligence might require A,B,C and D. You can't just prove D won't happen so therefore no negligence. you have to say "maybe A" "maybe B" "maybe C" "maybe D". final answer: "maybe". tech background can be helpful in analyzing each branch of the solution, but it can hurt because we have been trained that there is only one branch and we should make assumptions/simplifications to get to that one branch.
engineering in particular trains you to simplify the situation to get the right answer (lets assume that fancyshaped pole with artistic work in it is a circular beam). professors grade you based on whether you got it "right" or not; often times the method you used to get to the answer doesn't matter, what matters is the solution (of course the method gives partial credit so its still important).
law is the complete opposite. no prof cares about the right answer (IE can the company be sued for negligence). Negligence might require A,B,C and D. You can't just prove D won't happen so therefore no negligence. you have to say "maybe A" "maybe B" "maybe C" "maybe D". final answer: "maybe". tech background can be helpful in analyzing each branch of the solution, but it can hurt because we have been trained that there is only one branch and we should make assumptions/simplifications to get to that one branch.

 Posts: 18282
 Joined: Wed Oct 14, 2009 10:47 pm
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
rayiner wrote:Discrete math helps a lot more than, say, calculus. I was a programmer before law school and it's extremely similar to law exam. One thing you do as a programmer is try and figure out an exhaustive set of states a system can be in. Many things may or may not be true at a given time, but somethings won't ever be true and some things can't be true at the same time as other things. This is a lot like fully exploring all of the alternatives presented by an application of laws to facts. In think programming is particularly helpful because it's openworld. A system can end up in many different states depending on input that isn't available until runtime. Programmers are forced to keep all these possibilities in their head, just like you have to on a legal exam.
I thought of my crim laws, attempted complicit statutory rape scenario, as a nested mens rea loop.
 Corwin
 Posts: 451
 Joined: Thu May 12, 2011 1:12 pm
Re: math based analytical thinking and the law
Desert Fox wrote:rayiner wrote:Discrete math helps a lot more than, say, calculus. I was a programmer before law school and it's extremely similar to law exam. One thing you do as a programmer is try and figure out an exhaustive set of states a system can be in. Many things may or may not be true at a given time, but somethings won't ever be true and some things can't be true at the same time as other things. This is a lot like fully exploring all of the alternatives presented by an application of laws to facts. In think programming is particularly helpful because it's openworld. A system can end up in many different states depending on input that isn't available until runtime. Programmers are forced to keep all these possibilities in their head, just like you have to on a legal exam.
I thought of my crim laws, attempted complicit statutory rape scenario, as a nested mens rea loop.
You guys are full of win