Saturday, August 13, 2011
Last Thoughts on LawProf
I really appreciate the substantial reaction to the LawProf post. I remain fully convinced that people ought to be civil, regardless of whether they post anonymously or not, but even in uncivil comments there can be some valuable statements, and sometimes the emotion that such comments convey is itself diagnostically useful. Let me close out this discussion, at least for now, with a couple of remarks.
The first is that, although a few comments on a blog post are hardly accurate measures, obviously there is a substantial constituency of law students and recent graduates out there who feel badly injured by law school. I think it's difficult to say how many of these people actually went to law school in reliance on particular statistics about jobs provided by law schools featured in some brochure, how many went to law school in reliance on general hopes and expectations (in many cases supported by the law schools' words) about the likelihood that a law school graduate will get a high-paying job, and how many went for the usual mix of reasons and just happened to graduate in the middle of a recession. I think misreporting by law schools is reprehensible and would be even if no one at all relied on those figures, but I think it's probably fair to assume that some people went to law school for reasons that had less to do with specific promises and more to do with general assumptions about the economic security of a law degree. Regardless, what is striking, and unsurprising, is the depth of passion on the part of students in this position. They demand, first and foremost, an acknowledgment that law professors are actually aware that their students are suffering. Of course, nothing I can say here will reassure them, but as I said in my post, to the best of my knowledge and based on my experience, law professors are fully aware and distraught about what their students are going through. We don't teach from remote undisclosed locations: we're in the classroom and in the building with our students every day, work closely with them, and genuinely care about them; many law professors are going to great personal lengths to do what they can on the job front. Moreover, many of us graduated from law school in the midst of other recessions in the legal and general economy, and have experienced some of these things first-hand. Whether we do or say enough to acknowledge all this is a separate question -- perhaps every law school should devote its orientation week to talking about the legal economy, about how many recent graduates are suffering, and about what current law students should do to think about debt, jobs, and so on. But we're not ignorant of what's going on.
Second, and this is a point I made in my original post and Jeffrey Harrison makes very effectively in his comment, there seem to be a mix of various complaints, some of which are only slightly related and which would require very different remedies; in the midst of the talk about urgency, and of the genuine student suffering, these things are getting jumbled together in unhelpful ways. So we get complaints about law school reporting practices; about whether law schools provide sufficient practical training; about whether law professors are overpaid, or don't work hard enough; about how many law schools there should be; and complaints about the lack of jobs in general. Some of these form a basis for talking about "scams," and some of them are not about scams at all, but about structural questions about what law schools ought to be doing. And we get a variety of views about what to do about all this. Some students (and professors) believe in reemphasizing practical training regardless of whether that will result in more jobs or not, because they think it's the duty of law schools in good times and bad; some students might not care if every teacher in a law school taught high theory, if there were good jobs waiting at the end of the three years. And, judging by some of the comments, I would say a few students don't really care what changes are implemented and whether they actually achieve anything useful, as long as law professors are made to feel the pain of their students.
I can understand the passion of those who say there must be a solution, right now. But it doesn't change the fact that we need to figure out which problem we're talking about and what to do about it. And, again, I want to emphasize that our obligation to think on a continuous basis about what works and doesn't work in legal education is not just about the current recession; it's a permanent duty, and one that shouldn't blow hot and cold.
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