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Monday, September 10, 2012

Crisis? What Crisis?

Last year, I noted my disappointment that the AALS had approved no "hot topic" proposals for discussions of the so-called "law school crisis" at its annual meeting, but also commended it for devoting several formal panels to the topic. In the event, I still thought it had done too little to discuss questions relating to legal education and the legal economy or to target them better in the panels it did have, but something is surely better than nothing.

This year, the approach seems to be closer to nothing than to something. As far as I can tell from reading the 2013 program, there are only one or two such programs this year, and I think that's a generous count. (By all means correct me if you think I've read the program wrong!) One of those sessions involves Bill Henderson, so that's a distinct plus. Still, I'm dismayed that there isn't much more. As I did last year in the face of some cruder criticisms, I will certainly defend the idea of the professional meeting itself, and of panels discussing a wide range of doctrinal and theoretical issues primarily of interest to scholars. But I'm definitely disappointed that the AALS didn't do more to discuss what continue to be genuine questions about the welfare of students, the levels of tuition and debt, the future of graduates, failures of transparency by schools, and the soundness of what we do pedagogically. Perhaps the AALS will make up for its failure through the hot-topic process this time; I certainly hope so, and I certainly hope law professors out there will get busy planning and proposing such discussions.  

Posted by Paul Horwitz on September 10, 2012 at 09:01 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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And here I was, all worried that the legal academy would come up with some cockamamie scheme without practicing lawyers. At least I can rest easier knowing that won't happen.

Posted by: shg | Sep 10, 2012 9:41:13 AM

Yes, truly amazing. Any theories or just incompetence?

Posted by: Jeff | Sep 10, 2012 10:14:00 AM

No theories. Some of it, I would suppose, has to do with what the individual sections come up with. And I am waiting to see whether others think I have miscounted. But I would have hoped for more! Again, I sincerely hope that some folks take advantage of the hot topics possibility. A panel on Brian T.'s book would be a start, or a bankruptcy-oriented panel on student debt, or a discussion between career services officers and hiring partners, or...lots of possibilities.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 10, 2012 10:17:36 AM

I guess I am skepitcal that this matters. Those of us who want to be concerned about, educated on, and engaged in these issues are. There is plenty of information in the blogosphere and opportunities for publicly exchanging ideas about how to deal with the problem(s). I'm not sure what adding a couple of panels at aals would accomplish, other than just provide an opportunity to rehash the issues in person.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Sep 10, 2012 11:29:10 AM

I agree with Hillel, though for a different reason. The AALS has a very long, hard-won, reputation for irrelevance even when talking about legal scholarship. The quality of presentations is ordinarily low, attendance sporadic, and discussion pretty terrible. That the AALS is ignoring this issue handily tells us nothing particularly new about the organization, nor whether law professors "generally" are attuned to the crisis.

Posted by: dave hoffman | Sep 10, 2012 2:50:05 PM

Thanks for the comments. Relatively speaking I think I am closer to Dave than Hillel. Other than expressing my disappointment, I didn't suggest that this tells us a lot that's new or about whether law profs generally are are aware. But I would say: 1) given the potential irrelevance of AALS panels (and I'm a little more sanguine about them), at least it wouldn't have hurt much to do slightly more of one topic and slightly less of the usual topics; 2) many law profs aren't involved online (and good for them, mostly), and there might at least have been some walk-in traffic; 3) and I think there's some advantage to hashing things out in public and potentially learning from each other there, and not just doing things online for the usual audience.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Sep 11, 2012 7:36:16 AM

I also think there is a value in working within one's institution to address these problems. There is no one size fits all solution. Law schools vary in size, orientation, and other ways-- regional schools, national schools, elite, non-elite. Even if people have not thought about the long term structural changes that will transform the profession, or the short term economic malaise that drives things now, the drop in applications has gotten the attention of law schools, and they are now forced to deal with the circumstances. It still not clear to me why talking about this at conferences is critical, or that it gets anything done.

Posted by: JMH | Sep 11, 2012 10:04:06 AM

There is one very simple reason why the topics should be discussed at AALS - it shows that law professors finally "get it" which might lower the widespread contempt that they are increasingly held in by the broader legal profession.

Posted by: MacK | Sep 11, 2012 10:33:54 AM

To build on Paul’s last points, whatever might justifiably be said about AALS’s past performance, it seems to me that there would be definite value in having this body that is supposed to represent most law schools recognize the existence of the problem. And I think there would also be value in getting people in the same room. Not only because we can learn from one another, and because some people who haven’t been exposed to the issues might be. But also because it would be useful to be able to look around the room and see how many people, and perhaps even which people, are there. We may find that there’s greater awareness and concern than the Internet suggests, or we may find the opposite.

Posted by: Chad Oldfather | Sep 11, 2012 10:37:53 AM

Chad's point in particular is well-taken. And yes, it would be better if AALS had more like this going on.

I will note, though, that a couple of years back there was a very large conference that had "the future of law schools" as one of its prime-time panels. The room was packed. The speakers were well-known, admirable, thoughtful people. But I don't think there was a single thing that was said that hadn't been said many times before. There were no new ideas. And I daresay that there was nothing productive, in terms of actual changes in the world, that was generated by the panel.

In contrast, the blogs, media coverage, in-house steps taken by law schools, even the lawsuits, and the like seem to be pushing in the right direction--generating more transparency, raising awareness among faculty and prospective students, affecting strategic institutional decisions, etc.

This just suggests to me that big conferences like this are pointless for tackling big problems. Would it be better if the AALS had more? Yes. But do I think it really makes a difference? No.

Posted by: Hillel Levin | Sep 11, 2012 1:11:55 PM

No, it does not show they "get it". It just shows that the profs who show up at AALS, and go the session,get it,maybe

Posted by: JMH | Sep 11, 2012 1:39:58 PM

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