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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Leib and Paradigm Shifts

As I begin my stint here at PrawfsBlawg, I would like to thank the regular talent for giving me the opportunity to share their terrific forum. I appreciate the invitation.

As noted below, PrawfsBlawg's Ethan Leib was quoted yesterday in a provocative story in the W$J, entitled Law Reviews Adapt to a New Era.  Basically, the article questions whether student-run law reviews can stay relevant in an age when (a) important legal issues are forcefully debated in real time on blogs and (b) the most up-to-date scholarship is readily available from SSRN.  Citing the flagging relevance of traditional law review scholarship, the author asks the more fundamental question of "what professors should do when they're not teaching." 

According to the article, a good use of Ethan’s time is traditional scholarship (with no illusions about wide readership) and an active engagement in "the public conversation about law," presumably through outlets like PrawfsBlawg and the MSM hits it generates. 

Perhaps these remarks are further evidence that the blogosphere is shifting the traditional law professor paradigm. In previous years, law professors who were not already famous generally hurt their professional stature by writing for a wide audience.  Yet, it is hard to diminish the value of relevance and accessibility when it routinely generates sustained dialogues with students, alumni, other practicing lawyers and the general public.  All else equal, it is (way) better to be relevant.  Some law schools, such as Illinois, have readily embraced the scholar/blogger model.  More, I suspect, will follow.

More after the jump . . .

The W$J query on what professors should do with their nonteaching time, and thoughts on paradigm shifts, reminded me of some of my previous reading on the history of legal education.  It might come as a surprise to some that during the first half of the 20th century, legal academics at the nation's elite law schools viewed themselves primarily as social reformers rather than academics who churned out articles.  For example, one of the main goals of the sociological jurisprudence movement was the education of a new generation of lawyers who could confront the problems of modern industrial society through immersion in the social sciences.  In the late 1920s, the Columbia faculty attempted to rework the traditional law school curriculum by merging it with other relevant disciplines within the university.  When the Columbia President resisted these efforts by appointing a law school dean who would block this agenda, several prominent professors resigned in protest. 

Of course, some of the disgruntled Columbia faculty eventually found their way to Yale (even in those days, a comfortable safety net) and helped forge that school’s reputation as the center of the legal realist movement.  Yet, during the next two decades, curricular reform continued to be a major preoccupation of several prominent realists.  E.g., K. Llewellyn, On What s Wrong With So-Called Legal Education, 35 Colum. L. Rev. 651 (1935); J. Frank, A Plea For Lawyer-Schools, 56 Yale L. J. 1303 (1947). 

From our present perspective, it is hard to fathom the possibility that an elite law school faculty would come to blows with central administrators over matters of curricular reform.  Since the 1920s, the professional payoffs for scholarship versus curricular innovation have become remarkably one-sided.  (The economics of this outcome are pretty fascinating.)  As we ponder how to allocate our nonteaching time, it is worth asking whether these payoffs are socially optimal.

Posted by Bill Henderson on February 22, 2006 at 11:42 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

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Bill,

Characteristically thoughtful post. My sense is that much of the push for clinical legal education in the late 1960s and 1970s was inspired by a similar desire to make law schools more relevant. One often-overlooked part of the critical legal studies movement was that sought to reform the curriculum to bring in both more theory and more practical skills. Though I think now we remember CLS mostly for its contribution to theory.

Alas, much as we might dream of saying good-bye to law reviews, I suspect that they're going to outlast us all.

Posted by: Alfred L. Brophy | Feb 22, 2006 9:28:34 PM

Al,

Whatever happened in the 1960s and 1970s to advance clinical legal education, or the CLS movement in the 1980s, was not enough to deter the MacCrate Report (1992) from saying that law schools need to do more to prepare students for practice. Why not? Because of institutional incentives within the legal academy that affect how we spend our nonteaching time and who we hire (clinicians with full tenure are rare). That is meant to be a descriptive statement rather than a normative one; I don't want to diminish how complex the normative implications really are.

And I certainly agree with your point that law reviews will be around for years to come, primarily because of the validation point mentioned by one of Ethan's commenters.

Posted by: William Henderson | Feb 23, 2006 5:25:11 PM

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