Find the Flaw: A Difficult But Useful Skill

Some things you do to prepare for the LSAT are a waste of time as far as the rest of your life in concerned. Your ability to recognize a “parallel reasoning” question and skip over it until the end of the section is not going to help you be a better lawyer. But that is not true of all LSAT preparation. At least one area where you need to invest some significant time will serve you well throughout your life and legal career. That area is the “find the flaw” logical reasoning question type.

Logicians call these “flaws” fallacies, and diagnose them as carefully as doctors do diseases. If you take an old-fashioned logic class in an academic setting, you may still be expected to learn their Latin names, such as argumentum ad hominem, argumentum ad baculum, argumentum ad misericordiam, etc.

It used to be you couldn’t be a lawyer without knowing quite a bit of Latin, but aspiring lawyers aren’t expected to learn Latin anymore. That’s why the LSAT doesn’t give you Latin names in the answer choices. Unfortunately, the answer choices they do provide might as well be in Latin for all the good they do the brand-new test-taker. “Find the flaw” answer choices are worded in what I call “LSAT jargon,” a unique dialect found nowhere else on earth.

It isn’t that “find the flaw” answer choices aren’t in English, or that they don’t actually mean something. The problem is that an intelligent person can read the answer twelve times in a row and still not get what the test-writer is saying. Sometimes the only way to figure out what these answer choices mean is to look at the answer in the back of the book. Only after you see that “E” is the right answer will the fog clear and understanding set in. But by that time, you’ve already circled “C,” changed it to “A,” and beaten your head against a wall.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that LSAT jargon is no harder to learn than Latin, and the effort you make on this one question type will serve you the rest of your life. You will need to spot flawed reasoning in every contract you review, will you draft, deposition you take, or witness you put on the stand. On the LSAT, you have more than a minute to figure out a “find the flaw” problem. When your opponent is making her pitch to the jury, you have scant seconds; and when you explain your objection to the judge, you need to speak English, not Latin.

You might impress a jury by saying, “Your Honor, the counsel for the prosecution has committed a post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy,” but if the judge got his law degree in the last twenty years, you’re more likely to annoy him than persuade him. Try saying, “The State has confused a cause with a correlation, your Honor. Just because one thing happens after another thing does not mean it was caused by that other thing.” That might get your objection sustained and your client out of jail! And when your grateful client hugs you and hands you a check, you can say, “Don’t thank me–thank the LSAT!”