Sunday, August 21, 2011
No Longer Anonymous, But Still Not Quite Right
Since I had such fun and elicited such a supportive response the last time I wrote about "LawProf," I thought I'd add some thoughts on the denouement of this little drama. LawProf unveiled himself in a post on his blog as Prof. Paul Campos, after a post in which he talked about why he had chosen to write anonymously. I should preface my post by saying that, as I made clear in my initial discussion, I am not outraged by anonymity, and I never sought to discover or reveal Campos's identity. I did say that it is silly to call a tenured professor at a first-tier law school "heroic" for blogging about problems with legal education, let alone for doing so anonymously. Some of his commenters still fervently insist that it was, although Campos, to be fair, never claimed that he was a hero. My point was not a substantive one; his views stand or fall on their own merit. I just find it silly to call tenured professors heroic for just about anything they do, especially when they don't do so under their own name. In any event, I have a few points to make by way of closing out the book on this.
First, Campos now describes his motivation for writing anonymously--his only motivation, as far as I can tell by his post--as having been "to keep the argument focused on the substance of the debate, rather than on the hierarchical status and personal qualities of those participating in it." That's a perfectly worthy ambition. In law, we too often rely on on appeals to authority rather than on substance. But it bears pointing out that in the interviews he gave, "LawProf" seemed to suggest that another primary motivation for his anonymity was concern for the repercussions of writing so critically about legal education under his own name. (That is not the only reading available, I think, but it's a fair one.) That justification seems to have vanished from Campos's current account of his actions.
Second, while I do believe we ought to focus on the message rather than the messenger, Campos is not accurately describing what he did. If he had wanted to focus on substance rather than on "the hierarchical status and personal qualities" of the speaker, Campos could have declined to give any hint as to his identity at all. He needn't even have identified himself as someone involved in legal education, whether as a professor or as a student. But he didn't do that, of course. He specifically identified himself as a "first-tier" law professor, and insisted that his blog would be different and important because it offered an "inside perspective" on the issues. In other words, Campos may not have used his name, but he hardly disclaimed any interest in making an argument from authority. To the contrary, he deliberately traded on his authority, both to burnish his claims and, in my view, to give his enterprise the illusion of some kind of subversive frisson. His argument always involved the messenger as well as the message. If you really want to focus on the message and not the messenger, there are better ways to go about it than by invoking your authority in the first place, even if you don't sign your name to that invocation; having done just that, Campos has no reason to profess surprise that people did indeed focus on who he was.
Third, and I'm sorry I seem to have to emphasize this, but (as I said the first time around) Campos does make some reasonable arguments about serious structural problems with legal education. (Of course, he described those "structural problems" as a "scam." Again, it seems to me he did so for some kind of rhetorical effect or subversive atmosphere, even though he acknowledged from the start that he was not talking about individual intent on the part of law professors. And again, it should hardly have been surprising to him that people reacted to his deliberate use of the word "scam." I assume, incidentally, that his blog would have been less highly trafficked if he had called it "Inside Structural Problems in Legal Education.") We should take those points seriously, and try to separate them from the exaggeration, the overblown rhetoric, and so on. We should do so because the problems are important and deserve a response, as do the many law school graduates who are extremely unhappy, both with the job market and with legal education itself (two things that are sometimes the same, but not always; one of the points I was making was that we should not conflate the two). But it would have been easier to do so in the first place if Campos had actually written carefully, without exaggeration and overheated rhetoric. My original point was that this is one of the downsides of writing anonymously rather than under your own name. Not all restraint and nuance is capitulation. Sometimes, writing under your own name means you have to live with what you have written and answer for it; sometimes, writing anonymously means you can let yourself succumb to the lure of a poison and purple pen. In one of his interviews, Campos called this "pure candor" but noted that this sort of "freedom" can be "abused." That was my point, and it seems to me that Campos ended up making it for me.
Fourth, Campos, in his unveiling post, writes almost as if he is the first law professor to tell it like it is. The conversation about problems with legal education "should have started much sooner than it did," he writes, , and he's glad that some law professors have, "in just the last day," started to "engage[ ] substantively with issues I'm discussing." One reading of this--not the only one, but a pretty obvious one--is that, thanks to Campos's own blog, some law professors had finally started addressing these issues publicly. Now, I'm sure that Campos can't have meant this, although, again, it seems to me like a pretty fair reading of the impression he was trying to convey. But in case anyone out there thinks he was the first to make the kind of observations he did, let me be clear that this is hardly the case. To name only two individuals, William Henderson and Brian Tamanaha have been writing incisively about these issues for some time. Then there was the symposium dissecting everything that's wrong with both the US News rankings--and with law schools' gaming of those rankings; it took place in 2005, I believe. As far as I know, all of the people involved managed to write without undue consequences and with "pure candor," despite the handicap of attributed authorship. If anything, I'm hard pressed to think of any major general-interest law blogs that haven't featured discussions, for years, about significant problems with the nature and structure of legal education and legal employment, about whether law professors are overpaid and whether legal scholarship ought to be more practical in nature, about law school tuition increases, etc. I haven't written about all of these topics, but I certainly have written about some of them--both before and after tenure and under my own name. My point is not that Campos has nothing to contribute to these discussions; I'm sure he does, and again I think he's made some good points mixed in with the bad. But he's late to the discussion.
Finally, let me exercise the privilege of responding to something Campos said on his blog. He wrote in an earlier post,"contra Prof. Horwitz I never said 'virtually no professors prepare for class.'" If he means he didn't use those exact words, he's right. What he said, among other things, was that in "several thousand law school classrooms" every year, professors are teaching without having looked at anything beyond the casebook and the teacher's manual. He said: "This is how much preparation I’m doing this summer for the classes I’ll teach this coming academic year: None. And that, I guarantee you, is the median amount of time law professors have spent over the past three months preparing for the classes they’re about to start teaching again." And he said: "[M]any outside observers would be shocked to discover how little time and effort law professors, and most especially the traditional tenure-track faculty, devote to teaching." I feel pretty comfortable in saying that my paraphrase, although surely not perfect, was in the final analysis a hell of a lot more accurate than his rebuttal. Of course, in writing his misleading rebuttal, Campos was able to use my name and unwilling to use his. I'm glad that's no longer the case.
[Based on past experience, let me make clear that I am fine with anonymous comments, that I am equally fine with moderating the discussion, and that I am perplexed as to how any law student could think that presents a First Amendment issue.]
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Campos doesn't seem to take his job seriously. I know many law professors who do. Perhaps he should step aside and yet some young blood into the profession. You know, the folks willing to implement change rather than write anonymously about it? (There is serious and meaningful debate over structural problems in legal education; the blog Campos wrote anonymously was not part of it.)
Posted by: John W. Nelson | Aug 21, 2011 11:25:15 PM
All well said, and I'm inclined to side with you on every single point. But one thing (genuinely) nags me. Yes people have said this before, including law professors like Henderson and Tamanaha; but when was the last time that so much sustained attention got paid to this issue on widely read law professor blogs like this one? I think Campos has unfairly libeled many law professors, revealed his own corrupt work ethic (which may explain why he is so eager to attribute the same corruption to everyone else), and generally acted quite dishonorably. But it seems hard to deny that he has gotten results.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 1:02:52 AM
As usual, I mostly agree with Paul.
On the anonymity issue, I do think the anonymity shtick worked pretty well here. Few people would have cared what Campos wrote if he had done so under his own name. By hiding his identity, and by claiming that he hid it to avoid repercussions, Campos created the impression (to at least some readers) that he was taking a very courageous and daring step. That impression is what made the blog newsworthy, that newsworthiness led to press coverage, and that press coverage generated eyeballs and led to people talking about the issues. The picture may have been false in important ways, but the apparent plan to generate attention worked quite well.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2011 1:04:24 AM
Campos generated some attention, but my guess is that it'll be of the very short-lived kind. He did a good job of pretending to be oppressed, fighting against the oppression, etc...it makes for a good news story, but apart from the anonymous cheerleaders on the blog, I doubt anyone will remember it in 5 months.
Posted by: Andrew MacKie-Mason | Aug 22, 2011 1:29:55 AM
Paul, your last post on this issue, and to a lesser extent, this post as well, bothered me a bit; I'm not sure why. Perhaps I found your focus to be disproportionally, and uncharacteristically, personal, rather than on the substance of what Campos has written. Of course, given your writing style, which I am familiar with given that I've happily read a number of your articles, the ad hominem is smoother around the edges; you know, in that academic-collegiality sort of way (to be contrasted with the Brian Leiter approach). But ad hominem it seems nonetheless.
Can we slow down the Campos-is-not-really-a-hero, and anonymity-equals-wussy, bandwagon a bit? Or perhaps speed it up so fewer people can jump on? If I had my druthers, all future posts on this matter would address the merits of Campos' claims; not his choice to remain anonymous, and what that choice might say about him or the merits of his claims, etc. Indeed, so many seemed to have chosen to focus on Campos' anonymity, or his harsh language, as proxies for the legitimacy of his claims, rather than directly addressing the claims themselves. These reactions amount to an intellectual cutting of corners, and non-academics who read these blogs can see that.
Posted by: Anon4 | Aug 22, 2011 8:42:42 AM
Anon4, I think that's a perfectly reasonable request. For what it's worth, let me say a couple of things in partial clarification and self-defense. I don't think anonymity is wussy, and as my SSRN page reflects, I've written to defend its use. My earlier point was that anonymity can (not must, but can) affect the argument itself, encouraging "harsh language" rather than real efforts to communicate; and my point in this post was that if Campos wanted to focus on the messenger rather than the message, he shouldn't have incorporated into his argument an appeal to his status as a first-tier law professor. I think both those points were worth making, and as a process-oriented person I tend to focus on those kinds of issues. But I agree that the substance itself matters more. Similarly, I only wrote about the "heroic" issue because so many of his commenters were using this language, and I should be clear that while I think it's weird to call his actions heroic, I don't think they were especially cowardly either. I also felt the need to write because I thought his own justifications for his actions were somewhat poor, and especially because they didn't seem to understand the difference between being genuinely anonymous and being only partially anonymous, hiding one's own name but still trading on one's authority. My primary aim, I think, was not to tear down Campos or LawProf at a personal level, but to talk about how anonymous writing may affect the tone and strength of one's arguments. (With, admittedly, a bit of a point of personal privilege toward the end of this post!)
In any event, I agree with you in general that these matters are less important than the genuine questions we ought to have about legal education, the legal economy, law school reporting of employment figures, and so on. I've written on those issues before and surely will again, hopefully in my usual non-personalizing, somewhat milquetoast manner. And, again for what it's worth, I've always made clear that whatever complaints I may have about his unhelpful rhetoric, I think Campos was and remains fully entitled to contribute to that discussion. Again, though, I appreciate and welcome your thoughtful and quite reasonable criticism.
Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 22, 2011 9:21:23 AM
Anon4: Maybe you could identify the "merits" you'd like to see addressed -- I thought they were lost in the thickets of wildly misleading claims about what law schools do and how they operate. Campos claimed that professors don't prepare for class. On the merits, I think that was wrong. He also claimed that law school is a bad value. Ribstein has a nice set of responses to this. He said that tuition has increased exponentially. This is false in its particulars (maybe he doesn't know what exponentially means). But true in that tuition has gone up. Why is it -- it's not largely because faculties are self-interested (contra Campos). Most law schools' tuition is set by the central university: graduate tuition subsidizes undergraduate services, by and large.
But the bottom line is that Campos said basically nothing at all that was both true, interesting and new. His most provocative claims were false. Otherwise, it was stale. What he did do, as Orin points out, was to be anonymous and to promise readers that he'd reveal some insider knowledge. His cynical, bitter and crass manipulation deserves, I think, a personal response - whether modestly and kindly presented, as Paul characteristically does here , or less so, as Brian Leiter blogged. Though ordinarily I prefer Paul's reasonableness, this one time I think Leiter has it right on tone and substance.
Posted by: dave hoffman | Aug 22, 2011 9:32:38 AM
Granted I am new-ish to the legal academy but fwiw I am a tenure track prof and I work roughly 70+ hrs a week on teaching and scholarship. I get paid less than 6 figures. Again, maybe I am just doing something wrong here, but I love what I do. I love teaching and trying out creative approaches in the classroom and I love scholarship. I repeatedly sacrifice time with my family in order to work with my students. I see the same from every single faculty member at my school. I think that the future of legal education is an important topic but I really take offense at the idea that I am both lazy and overpaid.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 10:26:28 AM
Mr. Horwitz, I do not think you need to back down because of Anon4's comments. Mr. Hoffman and anon@10:26 respond quite well to Anon4's claims that Mr. Campos has had any contribution to the discussion of how legal academics can be reformed to better serve students.
Orin Kerr is correct that Mr. Campos' anonymity tactic drove eyes to his comments. The sad thing is that Mr. Campos' comments are as ill-informed and poorly-reasoned as those of the many embittered top-tier law graduates who lost their discovery review jobs as associates in big law firms during this legal recession.
The oft-heard critique is that law school does not teach students how to practice law. This is hogwash. Campos appears to support it by indicating law professors 1.) don't prepare much to teach courses and 2.) don't really care about the teaching aspect of courses. For this reason, it is indicated by Mr. Campos that law professors are overpaid. This, too, is hogwash.
Many professors I know work hard on both teaching and scholarship. Sure, there are always those who do not work hard, or just go through motions. However, show me a work place without anyone like this and I will show you a Potemkin village.
As for the curricular complaints of students, these are often ill-considered and ill-informed lashings out at schools by folks who are (reasonably) upset at losing their jobs. It is often said the socratic method does not work, and that the core classes (torts, property, contracts, etc) should be done away with for more practical courses.
What they fail to see is that the socratic method, and casebook method, teach you how to synthesize case law to develop theories in order to plug in holes in a jurisdiction's law. The reality is that there is never a case on point, and you have to shape your caselaw to make your point. The socratic and casebook methods teach you to do this. (And a good socratic method teaches students how not to wilt under questioning, and important skill when facing hostile judges during oral arguments.)
Then there are the core courses. These courses lay foundations for understanding our legal system which bleed into all other areas of law. Mergers and acquisitions? Hello contract law and property law. Government regulations? Tort law, property law, and criminal law all play parts. The myopic view of these complaints speak to their inability to think outside regulatory, form book responses—which is sad.
Nevertheless, there are systemic issues. As mentioned by Mr. Hoffman, many universities end up taking money from the law school to pay for non-law school expenses. Further, top law schools must compete for talent against top law firms and the judiciary. That means salaries tend to be higher. (My father, a long-time professor, once asked an economics PhD why he worked for the College of Business and not the College of Public Policy where the economics department exists. His answer was salary—the business school has to compete with businesses for their professors, the public policy school does not. Same holds true for law schools.)
There are also fewer clinical courses and experience available to students than perhaps there should be. Many schools do not have clinics (they're expensive; malpractice alone can be huge) and few, if any schools, have more than one required clinical course. Often that required clinical course is legal writing, but legal writing is often designed to focus on memos and briefs, not pleadings, motion work, or transactional drafting.
So yes, there are challenges and issues. But no, Campos has done nothing to advance serious discussion of these problems. He's no better than those who haunt the comments at the ABAJournal.com and repeatedly post about how law school is a scam.
Which is a shame. (And to Anon4—this is not an ad hominem attack. I am attacking his failure to address serious issues in his writing. I am not attacking him as a person. For all I know he's a quite nice guy and, perhaps, a great teacher. His commentary on the state of law school, however, is off-base.)
Posted by: John W. Nelson | Aug 22, 2011 10:56:24 AM
"My original point was that this is one of the downsides of writing anonymously rather than under your own name. Not all restraint and nuance is capitulation."
True. However, in the context of self-policing by law schools and the American Bar Association, restraint and nuance are often excuses for delay in implementing entirely reasonable reforms. For example, many of the recommendations that Patrick Lynch and Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency have promoted were first considered in 1996, when the ABA issued the MacCrate Report on the same subject. Restraint and nuance over the last fifteen years have led us to this point, and there is no reason to be satisfied with further inaction when the solutions are this obvious and the hardships for graduates are this great.
John W. Nelson/10:56 a.m.:
"What they fail to see is that the socratic method, and casebook method, teach you how to synthesize case law to develop theories in order to plug in holes in a jurisdiction's law. The reality is that there is never a case on point, and you have to shape your caselaw to make your point. The socratic and casebook methods teach you to do this."
How often do you survey your graduates now in practice to determine how effective your methods (or your execution of those methods) were?
How often do you speak to your graduates now in practice on any topic related to legal education?
How do you know what you have actually taught your graduates, and how useful that is, without ever soliciting feedback from them?
Posted by: John | Aug 22, 2011 12:08:58 PM
Instead of being an attempt to establish credibility through authority, isn't it possible that identifying himself as a first-tier tenured professor was an attempt to do so by means of an argument against interest? Whether that works or not is another question entirely though.
But you might be right that this granted him a perceived authority. There have been numerous blogs and articles over the last few years about the "law school scam." I can't think of one before this that got so much attention from so many people in legal academia. Though maybe a little hypocritical, it was extremely affected in helping to get his message out to the people who matter most.
Posted by: dufu | Aug 22, 2011 12:17:30 PM
I disagree, Mr. Campos is absolutely right and you are not only wrong but your analysis is skewed by your self interest.
Let me start by asking the most important question - Why hasn't your school complied with Law School Transparency's job placement disclosure requirements? Law School Transparency provided a simple solution to the "scam" accusations, honest disclosure of what happens to your graduates, but not one school agreed to comply. In fact, the schools are fighting even the ABA's small changes to the disclosure rules, with their accomplice (the NALP) threatening to sue the ABA.
Let me speculate as to the reason why. You earn $140,000 per year by way of those misleading career placement statistics. You use them to trick poor college grads - college grads who only wanted a job - into taking out student loans to enroll in your school. Then once they graduate in a pile of debt and only able to find temporary work and/or work paying 1/4 of your salary, your response is a thinly veiled "I got mine!"
A more loathsome way to make a living I can't imagine. Tell me, Mr. Horwitz, outside of academia, how many other people making $140,000 per year have all day to post blog articles and comment on them? In the real world, you have to work 50-70 hours per week, under stress, for that kind of money.
Legal academics have discovered a way to rent seek - to earn more money than they deserve. They were exposed years ago, when Loyola 2L won WSJ Lawyer of the Year, and now one of their co-conspirators has jumped ship. Of course, they are not ashamed and they won't give up. Like any rent seeker (see Ghadaffi) they are trying to stifle the expose and cling to opiate of easy money.
You professors make me want to vomit. And by the way, while you mentally masturbate eachother, Mr. Campos has a runaway victory in the poll posted by Abovethelaw.com. About 80% of respondents approve of him. Do you think you would do as well?
Posted by: student | Aug 22, 2011 2:07:20 PM
"Mr. Hoffman and anon@10:26 respond quite well to Anon4's claims that Mr. Campos has had any contribution to the discussion of how legal academics can be reformed to better serve students."
Actually, Mr. Nelson, I made no such claim. I declined to because I simply have not thought enough about this issue to have a strident position on the matter. While I don't defend Campos per se, I do have a feeling that he has probably contributed something, although I don't care to defend that tentative impression.
Paul, thanks for your response, and I take your points. But I do think that John's suggestion about the benefits of anonymity is countervailing.
Posted by: Anon4 | Aug 22, 2011 2:44:58 PM
Student at 2:07pm.
If the problem is that Horwitz is paid more than he deserves, how much pay does he deserve?
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2011 3:09:21 PM
I just wanted to concur with 'student.' As a law student, I can guarantee you that the vast majority of law students think of legal academia as a pretty parasitic profession, leeching large salaries from escalating tuition rates--rates that are driven by demand resulting from misleading statistics promulgated by the school. Generally speaking, the only people I ever hear defending legal academia are legal academics and the few students who themselves want to become legal academics. At the very least, professor salaries should be slashed.
In all honesty, I came into law school interested in pursuing legal academia, but as I learned more about the legal academy, I realized that there was no way that I could participate in this regime and feel good about my contribution to society.
Posted by: otherstudent | Aug 22, 2011 3:21:12 PM
Slashed to what? How should law professor salaries be set?
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2011 3:32:37 PM
Good question Mr. Kerr.
There are a number of possible structures, but here is one:
I would pay professors by the hour, and require that they submit time sheets for their work to their boss, who will scrutinize it carefully.
Let's say they're teaching Crim Law. They submit time sheets each week showing an average of 15 hours per week of prep, lecture and office hours time, for fourteen weeks. Then add 30 hours to grade the exams (these are high of course, as some professors spend no more than five minutes looking at each exam, and they recycle their lectures from prior years, and they do a few hours per week of office time, but any way I'll be generous) at $100 per hour = (15*14+30)*$100 = $24,000 for that course. The rate can be higher or lower for more esteemed professors, but the rate at a fourth tier school cannot be the same as the rate at University of Chicago. If you think this rate is too low, keep in mind that adjuncts work for a few thousand dollars per course. Note that this would have no impact on the tenure system. Professors would still get tenure.
The next question is how much to pay them for their law review publications. Good news about doing it this way is we can separate that cost out.
There are other structures as well, but the above is one idea.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:07:55 PM
Maybe "anon" went to law school, but he skipped economics during undergrad.
Law schools are going to set prices at about as high as they believe the market for students will tolerate. This tolerance is determined by the wealth of prospective students, their ability to fund education by other means and their sense of the potential return on investment. Want to affect the market? Pressure your government representatives to reduce assistance for law schools and legal eduction, and educate potential students on the grim prospects for most law school graduates.
Posted by: Nate | Aug 22, 2011 4:13:19 PM
I think your impression about the "vast majority" of students is wrong. At the school where I teach and another where I studied, people will bid ridiculous sums every year at the public interest auction for the opportunity to spend time with their professors, hardly indicative of widespread contempt for perceived parasites and leeches.
The scam-blogging phenomenon seems to have taken off because of the depressed economy, in the sense that all the complaints about high professor salaries and low workloads and lack of practice experience would all disappear in a second if there were 100% employment rates at 160k, and would not disappear otherwise even if professors worked 100 hours a week. But cutting professor salaries will not affect the economy in the least. There might be good reasons to cut professor salaries (contra Orin's apparent implication, there are many reasons to think that law professor salaries are higher than what would occur in a perfect market due to various distortions like ABA accreditation of law schools). But cutting salaries simply because a few malcontents have the sadistic desire to see everyone else share their suffering is probably not one of them.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:15:47 PM
Here's another idea. Using the earning power of your graduates (based on an honest study of what they make upon graduation), calculate the maximum average loan payment they can make. Using that, calculate the maximum tuition they can borrow. Using that, calculate the maximum salary you can pay your professors.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:16:48 PM
"people will bid ridiculous sums every year at the public interest auction for the opportunity to spend time with their professors, hardly indicative of widespread contempt for perceived parasites and leeches."
Students pay ridiculous sums at PI auctions to spend time with professors? Really? Those must be the rich kids, because if any student on loans is doing that they are recklessly irresponsible. Or, wait, maybe they think that by brown nosing you through this event you will boost their grades. Interesting phenomeon though. Can you flesch it out a bit?
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:23:09 PM
"But cutting professor salaries will not affect the economy in the least."
It wouldn't affect the economy, but hopefully (assuming schools don't use this savings on something else) it would lower tuitions to the point where it would ease the student loan burden.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:27:35 PM
So far we have three elements to (what I believe) is an ideal salary structure for professors:
1. A rate that depends on the amount of work that they do each week. So a professor who spends 40 hours per week answering emails, talking to students and preparing is not compensated the same as the professor who spends 5 hours a week on these tasks (and I have had both kinds of professors).
2. A system whereby their compensation for publications is separated out, so that we can see what these publications actually cost.
3. A system whereby their compensation is a function of their students' earning power. So the professors at Hofstra or NYLS can no longer make the same salary as their counterpart at NYU or Columbia.
Thoughts Mr. Kerr?
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:31:37 PM
It's somewhat ironic that although an important case can be made either that (1) that law professors generally don't train their students with any significant practical skills, (2) law school tuition is too high, or (3) law schools distort the true difficulties of finding legal jobs, the vocal blogosphere seems focused on the populist view that law professors simply "make too much". But lower professors' salaries would do nothing to solve either 1, 2 or 3.
In fact, I don't think lower professor salaries would really solve *anything*. It's like CEO salary-bashing. It may be fun and help people sow their jealousy oats, but as a proposal it really has no place in a discussion of law-school education reform.
Posted by: Joel | Aug 22, 2011 4:41:16 PM
I appreciate the response, but an hourly billing system for law professors seems like a very problematic idea to me.
First, it often happens that the people who are the least successful teachers spend the most time on it. For example, the first time a prof teaches a class, it's common to spend 40 hours a week on prep, even if the class goes poorly. If professors billed by the hour of course prep, your approach would seem to reward ineffective teaching, and teaching of classes where the professor has no idea what they're doing (and thus needs to prep more).
Second, I'm not sure how your approach would work, and in particular how the boss could effectively scrutinize time sheets. Let's take grading exams. In my experience, it takes me about an hour to grade a 3-hour essay exam, which by your approach would be $100 per exam or about $10,000 grading exams per class (assuming 100 in a class). But how can a boss tell if I was *really* grading exams then, or if I was just giving the 5 minutes per exam that you think most professors give?
Third, I would think your approach would create an incentive to scam the schools, and by extension the students. If a professor is paid an hourly rate to prep or grade, then the professor will soon spend 60 or 70 hours a week prepping and grading: They will spend the summer prepping their classes, and will spend 4 or 5 or more hours grading each exam. Students will have to pay for all that time in their tuition, even though very little of that time would actually help them. It's somewhat similar to the incentive lawyers have to overbill clients: I don't think we want professors to have the same incentives to overbill schools that lawyers have to overbill their clients who are paying by an hour.
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2011 4:41:47 PM
OK perhaps you don't like that particular solution, but how about a different structure that addresses the three elements I propose?
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:50:41 PM
P.S. Keep in mind that if a professor "overbills" or works inefficiently, the faculty coordinator can replace them next semester.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:57:25 PM
Students . . . who is holding a gun to your head and forcing you to go to law school? Who told you that you should blindly rely on one small and specific set of data that law schools supply to a magazine without question or further investigation? Don't blame law professors (who are different from university administrator or placement offices) -- many of whom gave up higher paying jobs to enter the academy and teach the likes of you -- for a decision you freely made. Take personal responsibility and move on.
Posted by: Diablo de Azul | Aug 22, 2011 4:57:44 PM
Stop babbling about nonsense and get to the point. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of law students being pumped out every year saddled with 100-200k of debt with little or no chance of earning a decent living. The student loans will never be paid back to the taxpayers of this country. Winners - law schools, law professors; losers - law students, USA taxpayers. This is a very big problem. Stop talking about all this other crap and address the problem!
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 4:59:31 PM
Joel is right that lowering professor salaries will not necessary lower tuitions. The schools could take those savings and spend them on something else.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:01:06 PM
At 4:07pm, you write: *****Note that this would have no impact on the tenure system. Professors would still get tenure.*****
At 4:57, you write: ****Keep in mind that if a professor "overbills" or works inefficiently, the faculty coordinator can replace them next semester. *****
I'm not sure I follow you. If a professor is billing hourly but is inefficient, as judged by the "faculty coordinator", they are "replaced." But then what happens? Do they get another class? What class? They need a class to bill, and need to bill to pay the rent: How could they make a living if they are not given a class to bill? What if they are inefficient in the other class? And who is the "faculty coordinator," and how is the coordinator chosen?
Posted by: Orin Kerr | Aug 22, 2011 5:04:50 PM
As a recent graduate of a T14 law school, it's been shocking to read comments from law professors that seem to imply there is no crisis in legal education. But when most of your students are graduating wtih 120k in debt and only 64 percent (perhaps less) can find full-time work in the profession, that's a crisis. Part of the reason Professor Campos' blog received so much attention is that there is a wide-spread perception among the bench and bar that the legal academy seems content to sit on their collective duff while Rome burns. I understand some of the more bitter attacks regarding salary and the social utility of scholarship has prompted the academy to circle the wagons. But there's a rea, devistating problem right now, at least for the many who made the investment in legal education and can't find work. Whatever the solution--lower tuition, more transperacy, a better pedagogy--you guys better start acting with a bit more urgency or people are going to continue to throw you under the bus.
Posted by: Greg Morris | Aug 22, 2011 5:07:14 PM
A couple of comments:
1) "Student," it seems to me that the valuable part of your comment is the second paragraph, asking about law school compliance with transparency norms. Fair question. Although I certainly agree that law schools' reporting of employment statistics should be both accurate and clear, I cannot give you a specific answer about my own institution's response to the initiative you mention. As for the rest of your comment, I think it speaks for itself. Let me again ask commenters here to abide by the most basic norms of civil discourse.
2) One or more additional commenters (it gets a little confusing) suggest various methods of determining and/or cutting professors' salaries. I have no particular problem with that in principle; as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, I am pleased by my salary and did my best to negotiate a good deal, but don't think I have some God-given right to it. I am incidentally curious as to whether the commenter who proposed an hourly wage thinkgs all academic salaries should be paid on an hourly basis, or only law professors' salaries. In the end, though, it seems to me that the salary question ends up being, for many people, a place-holder for a larger set of ideas, concerns, and emotions, some of them reasonably related to the salary question and some of them quite unrelated. In some cases, it's apparent that it's a way of saying that tuitions are too high; in others, that jobs are too scarce; in others, that law professors are too oblivious and indifferent; and so on.
Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 22, 2011 5:07:52 PM
You still have tenure, but fewer courses to teach. Maybe throw a minimum base salary in there ($20,000 per year) for tenured professors. Faculty coordinator is chosen just like any other manager at an organization is chosen, by a mix of stakeholders, probably a mix of the dean, professors, maybe students and even alumni. Keep in mind that this professor could still make money for publications (although we haven't yet determined how they would be compensated). This would be good in that it would separate out the professors who are good teachers from those who are good publishers.
I'm just brainstorming here.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:10:38 PM
P.S. my comment above at 510pm was in response to Mr. Kerr.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:12:54 PM
1. I can virtually guarantee that the university would find "something else" to spend the money on. An often-unappreciated fact is that tuition money usually goes directly to the central university and not the law school (the law school then gets a portion of it back, but law schools and central administrations have incessant fights about how that gets divided up, so less law school expenses like salary almost certainly means the university will keep some part of it).
2. Even if tuition is reduced, the tuition and student loan burden is not what really drives the complaints about professor salaries. The students willingly paid the tuition and took the loans, so they were not looking for lower tuition or loan burdens when they were making decisions. What is driving these complaints is that the outcome vis-a-vis employment did not come out the way that they had hoped. So long as the employment outcomes fail to meet expectations, disappointed malcontents will lash out, and they will do so whether professor salaries are $1 or $1 million.
3. A third, often unappreciated, point is that lowering law professor salaries will almost certainly mean more law schools (since they are now even more profitable and cheaper to operate), more students, and more future graduates. In other words, even worse employment outcomes for the current crop of scambloggers. The fact that they fail to appreciate Economics 101 shows where we professors really screwed up in educating them.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:22:25 PM
I suspect that, if being a law professor wasn't as remunerative a job as it is, we'd lose a lot of our best professors to practice. And as I believe that there is a lot of great doctrinal scholarship being produced today, I think that that would be an unfortunate thing. Speaking as a student who's in the top 1% of his t14 class, I think a great many of the students who feel scammed have no one to blame but themselves. I never would have gone to law school had I not had very good reason to believe that I'd be very good at it. If you're someone who had to spend months of study to eke out an acceptable score on the LSAT, or someone who's so unconfident in your ability to read a case that you come to class with a stack of supplements, I don't really get why you're in law school. Practice is a whole lot tougher than law school; rather than answering simple hypotheticals in three hours on the basis of two or three on-point cases, you're dealing with real, complex, non-prepackaged facts, and a massive welter of conflicting authority that doesn't come to you wrapped up in a tidy package in a casebook. People seem to think that simply because they shell out the money to go to law school, they deserve a law job; what makes them think they can do the work well, or don't they care?
Posted by: An Anon(ymous Commenter) | Aug 22, 2011 5:23:07 PM
But anon@5:22 (btw there are at least four anons in this thread) element 3 of the compensation structure I propose above would require law professor salaries and tuitions to be commensurate with their students' earning power. So sure, there will be more law schools, but the lower ranked ones won't be nearly as expensive. So there won't be the same student loan burdens (addressing your 2 and 3).
Also, if you went to this kind of performance based compensation for professors, it would put pressure on the school to be similarly bottom line in other areas of its budget so it could cause a drop in overall expenditures and tuitions (addressing your 1).
So far no one has criticized the idea of separating pay for teaching from pay for publishing. Can we agree on that element at least?
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:26:32 PM
"There is a wide-spread perception among the bench and bar that the legal academy seems content to sit on their collective duff while Rome burns." There is no such perception. What there is is a Great Recession, which also hit the legal profession, except some of those affected in the legal profession decided to start blogs to blame law schools for their plight. Since most of those blogs are so stupid and badly written, it's no surprise their authors are unemployed.
Posted by: Stop the Whining | Aug 22, 2011 5:28:13 PM
"I suspect that, if being a law professor wasn't as remunerative a job as it is, we'd lose a lot of our best professors to practice."
I have to disagree with this. Under the three elements I propose at 4:31 above, good professors (those who spend more time with their students, publish more, and teach at better schools) would like make more and bad professors less.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 5:30:43 PM
The reason people haven't responded to you is because your issues are tangential to the scamblog phenomenon. The underlying premise of your proposals is that professors should focus on interacting with students and not scholarship. Not necessarily wrong, and you will find plenty of people who voice the same view even within the academy, but it is part of the perennial teaching-v-scholarship debate. That has nothing to do with the scamblogs, really, because those bloggers are motivated by the fact they did not receive the job they expected and not by the quality of teaching. They will complain if they received great teaching and no job; and they will stop complaining if they have a great job even though they were taught badly. A professor who spends 100 hours a week preparing for class and talking to students still won't be able to get them a job.
As for your concrete proposals, they kind of contradict each other. A professor who does more class preparation will not necessarily create better employment outcomes for his students, so your (1) and (3) are not the same. Paying the professor an hourly rate for class preparation time will probably just encourage overbilling, while paying the professor according to his students' earnings will conversely (and, to you, probably perversely) encourage professors to spend even more time than they do now to write scholarship in order to move up to NYU and Columbia. As for calling for pay to be divided into publishing and teaching, the basic objection is that those things are impossible to neatly compartmentalize. Is my reading the newest Supreme Court case in my field "preparation for teaching" or "research for potential scholarship"?
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 6:15:04 PM
"The underlying premise of your proposals is that professors should focus on interacting with students and not scholarship."
That's not true at all. I said compensation for time spent teaching should be separated out from compensation for publishing, which in no way favors one over the other. You simply get to see how much each costs.
"A professor who does more class preparation will not necessarily create better employment outcomes for his students, so your (1) and (3) are not the same."
Arguably contradictory elements can perfectly coexist in a compensation structure. A football running back can't both gain rushing yards and passing yards, but he can be compensated based on the total rushing and passing yards he gets.
"Paying the professor an hourly rate for class preparation time will probably just encourage overbilling,"
This is a problem that the free market has experienced, and dealt with, in hourly billing systems. You're forgetting competition and the ability to not use professors who overbill.
"paying the professor according to his students' earnings will conversely (and, to you, probably perversely) encourage professors to spend even more time than they do now to write scholarship in order to move up to NYU and Columbia."
Well, I was thinking the third element would look something like this: Your average tier 3 professor would make about $30,000 or $40,000 per year, and tuitions would only be about $10,000 to $15,000 at these schools. Similary, the professor at NYU or Chicago would maek $200,000 or $300,000 or so per year. The tier 3 professor can't really affect this rankings situation by publishing more. His incentive is to maximize his salary by spending more time teaching, and more time publishing, but the third element puts such a constraint on his salary that he will never achieve the NYU salary unless he moves up to a better school. You have this same phenomenon with lawyers at small firms who lateral into higher paying firm that serve premium clients.
"As for calling for pay to be divided into publishing and teaching, the basic objection is that those things are impossible to neatly compartmentalize. Is my reading the newest Supreme Court case in my field "preparation for teaching" or "research for potential scholarship"?"
If you're writing a paper on that topic, then allocate some of your billable time to the paper and some to teaching. And perhaps there could be another billing code for "researching potential papers" (but hours spent in this category would have to be proportional to hours in the "worked on paper that was published" category).
Besides, the current system has its own flaws. What about the professor who has seems to hate his or her students, spends no time on class preparation, bare minimum face time on office hours during which they make it clear by their comportment that they do not want to talk to students, no time reading current cases in their field, spends 5 minutes skim-grading each exam and who provides no explanation of how he/she came up with the grade, and who publishes one article every four years? There are lots of professors like this at tier 2/3/4 schools. They're compensated just as well as the professor who makes teaching his or her life.
IMO, The problem of legal academia doesn't lie with the Leiter's of the world at University of Chicago. He publishes his student reviews for pete's sake. They lie with the lower ranked schools who charge way too much tuition, and pay their professors way too much salary for the experience and jobs their degree provides. Brainstorming a bit more, how about we keep the current structure for T30 and above schools, and move to my compensation structure for lower ranked schools?
I don't know. This is all silly imagination, but any way thanks for the discussion.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 6:40:03 PM
I read all the posts and all the comments on Inside the Law School Scam and came away with a sense that an imaginary world had been created for the purposes of a discussion. It bore some resemblance to the real world, but left major things out--like deans and administrators at law schools, like the university to which most law schools are attached. It was mainly about the evil nature of law professors. Campos and some of the commentators wrote (and are still writing, I guess) as if law professors were in sole control of setting tuition; that they could, on their own, just decide to cut tuition in half, for example. In that world there is no university administration that expects to take a cut of the law school's revenue to spend on other programs. Law students may cry foul, but if they went to an undergraduate institution that had professional schools, their college program benefited from them. The few stand alone law schools do have more flexibility. But they also lack the benefit of having a large institution to help absorb costs. They run their own human resources departments and have many other expenses that would be lessened if they were attached to a larger entity.
Still, it has been definitely useful to move this discussion out of the province of the scam blogs--note that he has not linked to them on his site. The baseness and crudity of many of them are embarrassing, and would drive many people who are interested in the subject away.
Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 22, 2011 6:40:18 PM
FYI, under the hourly pay structure proposed above, I (a tenure-track law professor) would get a RAISE! And that doesn't even count the article I published this year and the fact that I actually work more hours prepping/teaching than what was put forth under the proposed pay structure.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 6:44:51 PM
When I pointed to the underlying premise, I meant it conveyed an attitude that is quite obvious when one reads how you phrase your proposal, even if you add the element of separating teaching from publishing. Your hourly rate pays for "40 hours per week answering emails, talking to students and preparing", not 40 hours a week publishing scholarship. Similarly, you want to better compensate "the professor who makes teaching his or her life," but not to better compensate a professor who makes scholarship his or her life. The attitude is pretty obvious (i.e. you want professors to spend more time teaching, dammit), and it reduces your credibility to deny it.
And now that you put solid numbers, we can judge the feasibility of your proposal. $40,000 for a law professor? Granted, law professors have a much nicer job than at a law firm. We get paid less, but all of us voluntarily chose to leave the big firm for the academic job, which shows that we got a better deal overall. But there is a point where people will leave, and $40,000 easily passes that mark. You can respond that many new graduates get paid $40,000, which is true enough. But to be harsh about it, your average starting law professor has much better options than the average law graduate (and as for the tenured folks who no longer have the big firm option because they have been out of it for so long, they have been out of practice for a reason, and it is called "tenure"--and lets not start a debate about the merits and demerits of tenure).
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 9:28:34 PM
Regarding your first paragraph. A compensation program that pays $40,000 per paper published, and only $25 per hour of teaching that satisfies the criteria even though it compensates more for the former. If that's how a school wants to compensate its professors then that's fine, I only want to see the compensation for teaching separated out from compensation for publishing.
"We get paid less, but all of us voluntarily chose to leave the big firm for the academic job, which shows that we got a better deal overall."
Do you really think anyone believes that law professors "chose" to leave firms? A couple of my professors flat out admitted that they were lathamed and one admitted to the entire class that she could never get a job at a firm. Neither put it that way, obviously. There was always some story explaining how they were better than the firms. For example, the last one told us a story explaining how law firm partners are psychotic (I won't explain how she determined this because it would out her), and that they could see by her interview answers that she was not, and that is why they did not hire her. And don't get me started with the mob of professors who claim they were let go because they protested excessive or double billing.
"But to be harsh about it, your average starting law professor has much better options than the average law graduate."
Not necessarily, see above. It depends on the person and certainly some professors could get high paying private sector jobs, but there are plenty of juior professors who could not. Especially at tier 2/3/4 law schools.
"there is a point where people will leave, and $40,000 easily passes that mark"
The $40,000 figure wasn't based on what it would cost to keep professors. It was based on what the students could afford to pay. So if there isn't a compensation where you can have both (a) professors willing to work for that amount and (b) tuitions that students can afford then that law school will have to shut its doors.
One last thing in response to each of your points above: adjuncts. Adjuncts are professors who often do work at firms and they are willing to teach for a small fraction of $40,000.
Posted by: anon | Aug 22, 2011 11:05:35 PM
Most new law professors come from the top ten/five law schools; a number coming off clerkships. They could get jobs at private law firms, public interest firms, in state or local governments at consulting firms. It's not true that they could only be doing one thing. Of course, the longer anyone stays in a profession, the harder it would be to change gears. That's not unique to law professors.
Posted by: Anonymous | Aug 22, 2011 11:57:20 PM
Most new law professors come from the top ten/five law schools; a number coming off clerkships. They could get jobs at private law firms, public interest firms, in state or local governments at consulting firms.
There are mobs of top school grads who couldn't get a whiff from biglaw firms. Some could never get a job there. Some could get a year or two at biglaw, but that's it. Law firms are ultimately about the bottom line and not prestige.
Posted by: anon | Aug 23, 2011 12:16:24 AM
We have a very large empirical disagreement, it seems. I say most junior professors, even at lower tier schools, can easily get big firm jobs; you say they can't. There is not much more to say there, except take a look at the credentials -- your usual entry-level law professor is close to the top of the class at a top school with an appellate clerkship. Somewhat ironically, it is some of the more senior folks who would have difficulty, because they have been out of practice for so long.
Of course, you could have an entirely different model with entirely different people teaching law in an entirely different way, which is basically what you are advocating with a law school staffed by adjuncts, whose distinguishing feature is that they are paid only to teach and are not expected to publish. But that just goes back to your implicit premise that you want people to be more like adjuncts -- i.e. more teaching, less scholarship. Again, nothing wrong with that, but it is unproductive for you to deny it.
Posted by: anon | Aug 23, 2011 12:37:58 AM
I have already addressed your incorrect points ad nauseum above. You are absolutely wrong when you attempt to characterize my request, that compensation for teaching be separated from compensation for publishing, as a demand that professors teach more and publish less. That's just intellectual dishonesty on your part as I described above very clearly, when I gave an example of a compensation structure that would disproportionately reward publishing but which would also satisfy my criteria.
I can't prove the same intellectual dishonesty when you claim that most tier 2/3/4 law professors could get jobs at top firms. I gave you my experiences and obsevations (and I know what I am talking about as I network constantly with graduates of top 5 schools) but you want me to do a scientific study which, although possible, is not something I am going to do for this discussion.
And this is why professors are the problem, they will lie, cheat and steal to keep their gravy train going. Needless to say I full support LawProf and all scambloggers in their efforts to stop your rent seeking activities.
Posted by: anon | Aug 23, 2011 12:49:08 AM
How did this turn into a discussion about whether law professors could get big firm jobs any way? If they can get them then go and take them. I would much rather work as a big firm lawyer than a professor at tier 2/3/4 school, if for no reason other than that I couldn't stand to have students accuse me of stealing from them.
Posted by: anon | Aug 23, 2011 1:37:23 AM
I had to laugh at the comment that if law schools cut compensation they would lose professors to law firms. That's really not true for senior or mid-career faculty, and for reasons totally unrelated to whether they might once have chosen that life and made a go of it. Law firms don't hire senior people as associates; they hire them as partners. In today's environment, they don't hire partners unless 1) they bring with them loyal clients who will more than cover their compensation, and, more rarely, 2) they have particularly hard to find technical skills (certain kinds of tax expertise, maybe certain kinds of IP, but most decidedly not the ability to engage in critical legal analysis or debate substantive due process). I once was an equity partner with an AmLaw 25 law firm, and left to be an academic. I was good enough to make partner then; without my clients, I have zip chance of getting hired back. The same is even more true for the smart young men and women who put in one or two undistinguished years in the firm library as associates and before making the jump to academe.
That said, law school salaries do reflect competition at the entry level, because if the wages resembled contract work people might choose to stay at their firm. At the associate and full professor level, however, the pay scales reflect competition with other law schools, which happens as law schools chase academic prestige so they can rank higher in the US News rankings.
Posted by: Anon | Aug 23, 2011 7:59:46 AM
The difference between Campos and any earlier discussion of the problem is that Campos seems to be the first one to suggest that law professors are not blameless for the situation. This extra element is what has the law professors up in arms and the law students rushing to call him a hero.
Like it or not, it seems that law students believe law professors have a duty to act as their advocates. So when the legal education system fails to produce good employment outcomes for huge numbers of students year after year, the law students are going to lose faith in those advocates. They're going to believe that law professors have failed them. Specifically, they've failed to speak out, to raise awareness, to lend credibility to the students' complaints, or to do any of this in a manner forceful enough to cause anybody to pay attention. Horwitz, you say that law professors have been discussing these issues for years, but obviously to no good effect. Student outcomes are worse now than they've ever been. So thanks, thanks for nothing.
Posted by: Fred Smith | Aug 23, 2011 8:03:25 AM
Lawprof addressed the idea that law professors need to make large salaries lest they be lost to Biglaw. He contends that this would never happen because law professors really, really, don't want that life. They don't want do to that kind of work, and they don't want to work that many hours. You could cut their salaries by a substantial amount and you'd probably see no movement to the private sector at all.
That said, I don't think law professors' salaries are very relevant to this discussion. That is just upset students lashing out. I hope it concerns the law professors to see how they are becoming the bad guys and to see that people in the profession are siding against them. Have you seen the poll at Above the Law? Views of Campos were 70% favorable last time I checked, with something like 40% being very favorable. Say what you want about Campos, make whatever personal attacks you want, but what do you have to say to the 70% of the lawyers and law students who think he's right?
Posted by: Fred Smith | Aug 23, 2011 8:13:13 AM
The sense of entitlement and lack of personal accountability displayed by some of the anonymous posters in this thread is remarkable. Some of you need to take a good, cold, hard look in the mirror.
Purchasing a law degree does not, and has never, entitled you to a job. Even if a law school reports 99% employment, any reasonable student should recognize that that means they are not absolutely guaranteed a job, and thus the duty of finding a job is ultimately theirs. Sure the law schools should be more transparent, but in my experience all but a small handful of prospective students never spend more than 15 seconds considering that type of data anyway.
Even if the data was more accurate, it goes without saying that your mileage may vary. We're in the midst of a major recession/depression, folks. Any employment data relied on by the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011 would have been based on pre-recession hiring trends. If you needed a law school to tell you that a change in economic circumstances could affect your ability to get a job, then you have bigger problems than a lack of transparency from your law school placement office.
Posted by: Anonity | Aug 23, 2011 8:42:16 AM
Mr. Smith, Above the Law is not an accurate cross section of law school graduates. I would wager a greater majority of law graduates don't have time to know who Mr. Campos is, much less read his blog. Let's be candid—the people who spend great deals of time at Above the Law tend to be the underemployed or unemployed. Their opinions will necessarily be skewed. (And to be honest, my time reading the ABAJournal or other blogs tends to coincide with my workload being lighter.)
Sadly, I don't think it's worthwhile to discuss law school change with many of the folks who frequent Above the Law or the comment section of the ABA Journal's website. They tend to be seeking scapegoats for their job prospects or for the unhappiness they feel in their career. They tend to be less interested in real reform or looking at the big picture. (This is evidenced by their naive assumption that merely cutting the output of new lawyers will solve their woes.)
I do think that Mr. Smith has a point that students, rightly or wrongly, look to their professors to be advocates for them when it comes to their future job prospects. Students look to their professors for leadership, guidance, and advice—the upheaval in the job market has left many students questioning such advice.
However, I think law professors generally do want to help their students. Most of the ones I know do care about their students job prospects. The problem is that no one has a silver bullet for solving the woes of the legal job market. The only real methods in the control of law schools (and therefore, to some extent, professors) is greater transparency in employment and other statistics, more clinical experiences that prepare law students for practice, and imparting more clear expectations of what one can expect in the post-graduation market. I think law schools are moving towards this, albeit not at a pace satisfying many disgruntled recent law grads.
Posted by: John W. Nelson | Aug 23, 2011 9:00:03 AM
For the most part I've been content to let the conversation run itself, but I'd like to respond briefly to Fred's comments. (Although, please call me "Paul," or "Mr. Horwitz" if you prefer. Only my drill sergeant calls me "Horwitz.")
On your first comment, although I think the causes of relative institutional paralysis are complex and not fully attributable to law professors, US News, or any other single factor, I think it's a worthy subject for concern. I also think you're right to point to student anger as something that law professors need to address in a way that lets students know their professors are at least somewhat aware of what they're going through. I'm struck, though, by the fact that immediately above this post, I wrote about how I'm starting off my legal ethics class this year with a detailed discussion of the legal economy, the job market, and problems with legal education. I've gotten no comments on that post. We should distinguish between the legitimate concern that professors haven't done enough to voice these concerns, and the inaccurate accusation that they've done nothing at all. I will say two more things, however. First, it's not correct to say law schools or law professors have just talked and done nothing. I can think almost immediately of a half-dozen institutions that have, in the last few years, engaged in significant changes in curriculum, structure, changing the balance between skills teaching and abstract thinking, and so on; doubtless the real number is larger. Some of those changes have been driven by the economy, some by the changing legal profession, some by a sense that legal education has become stultified, etc. Some will work and some won't, and some law schools, like any other institution, will only change slowly and reluctantly. But it's not the case that it's been all talk and no action. I don't want to overstate the point, of course, but I don't want it ignored altogether either. As for your closing lines about student outcomes, I'm not sure whether you mean this in terms of jobs or in terms of pedagogy. As I said at the outset, our duty to make sure we're doing a better job of teaching is real and should be ongoing, not cyclical. If you're talking about jobs, I honestly can't tell from your comment whether you're factoring in the major economic downturn of the last four or five years, which obviously has affected many more industries and professions than just the law, but surely you'd agree that's relevant.
As for your other comment, I agree with you on both points. The salary discussion is more an expression of anger than an especially useful cure for the problems that students are complaining about the most. Again, that doesn't mean I think my salary should be set in stone. Rather, my point is that if we care primarily about usefully addressing the actual problems and not just salving wounds, we should be clear-headed enough to recognize that and to think hard about useful reforms. I must point out that distinguishing between useful and useless reforms involves . . . more talk. Even if we weren't talking about academics, who talk themselves to death, that would still be true. Just for saying we ought to think about what's useful and what's not, I've been accused of being cold-heartedly indifferent to students. If I understand your comment, then I take it you understand why that's not necessarily so. Having said that, I think salving wounds is important too. I must say, though, that I am less immediately concerned about those students or graduates who are the most vocally outraged, and more concerned about the students or graduates we don't hear from at all: those who leave law school passive, indifferent, resigned, quietly angry, and feeling abandoned, even if they don't think of law school as a total scam or all law professors as evil blood-suckers. Those are the people I'd most like to reach, and the ones I think law schools should make a more concerted effort to find and talk to, both in law school and after graduation. I do not want to lose a generation of alumni.
For the most part I'm not crazy about defending myself, both because I understand why some students are angry and because I don't want to personalize a structural problem. But I think it's fair to say that I have suggested several of these reforms, not publicly but privately, at my own law school. One thing I think all the recent blog discussion has been missing is that, whether law professors are all-powerful or entirely powerless, not everything they do is going to appear on a blog. Some (many, I hope) are also doing things at a local level.
Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Aug 23, 2011 9:05:55 AM
"I appreciate the response, but an hourly billing system for law professors seems like a very problematic idea to me."
Wow. If only there were some way to do this. Perhaps someone has already worked out some way to account for the wide variety of activities that law professors undertake in the course of their work: research, writing, meeting with people, preparing and presenting complex (or not-so-complex) legal ideas and arguments to groups, and various internal responsibilities....
Come on, Kerr, are you so far removed from the profession you're training people to enter that this seems like a foreign concept?
Posted by: A billable hour? Pour moi? | Aug 23, 2011 10:11:38 AM
Here's another idea of a reform you could institute yourself locally. Read anonity's comment at 8:42 to your new 1Ls. Make sure they understand that expecting a job out of this whole thing reflects their remarkable sense of entitlement and lack of personal accountability.
Posted by: Fred Smith | Aug 23, 2011 10:14:40 AM
"Speaking as a student who's in the top 1% of his t14 class, I think a great many of the students who feel scammed have no one to blame but themselves."
Your sympathy for the plight of your fellow students is overwhelming. What a great demonstration of one of the major problems in the legal professions. The guys at the top don't care about anything but getting theirs. You should think about becoming a supreme court justice. I'm sure you'd fit right it.
"What there is is a Great Recession, which also hit the legal profession, except some of those affected in the legal profession decided to start blogs to blame law schools for their plight." That's partially true. However, you should be able to see the difference between getting a degree and plain old bad luck vs. cooking the books on your employment statistics to justify skyrocketing tuition.
Posted by: Shark Sandwich | Aug 23, 2011 10:31:00 AM