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Thursday, July 03, 2014

Legal education scholarship and its coming heyday (?)

"If a were a rich man . . ." as the song goes.  There ought to be financial support heading toward legal scholars, within and outside of the academy, who are doing focused analytical work on legal education.  We have many bold claims and anecdotes -- I plead guilty for offering both frequently -- but there is emerging only recently a substantial body of research that investigates and interrogates claims about legal education, and in a way that can credibly be called real scholarship, and not just polemics.  Some folks explore the utility of different modalities of instruction; others looks at the connection between educational inputs and outputs; and there are those whose focus is principally on the legal profession and the ways in which modern legal education does or does not serve the objectives of modern lawyers.

This is a critical area of analysis which desperately needs more light than heat.  The availability of data provided through the internet (and, albeit as an unintended consequence of USNews, a plethora of marketing materials) would seem to provide a treasure trove of information about what law schools are doing.  "Soak and poke" can often do the trick; and some databases are in the works, a necessary step to developing a richer body of empirical work in this area.  And periodic meetings of constituency groups -- thinking here, especially, of the remarkably vast annual AALS clinicians conference -- provides venues for the dissemination of serious scholarship on legal education.

But we ought not be too Panglossian about these developments.  The incentive structure of law schools makes it hard, or at least tricky, for young scholars to map out a research portfolio in the legal education space and be properly rewarded for the effort.  Indeed, for those who work seriously in this area, it is (perhaps with a few exceptions) more or less a hobby -- that is, it is what active scholars do in addition to work in their substantive fields.  We should ask, self-critically, is there not room in the cathedral for scholars whose central objectives is to devote their principal scholarly attention to questions about legal education?  Can promotion and other accoutrements of the academy take seriously law profs who do their primary work on these key questions?

And there is the matter of money.  Major scholarly contributions to the understanding of legal education are likely to involve serious empirical work.  Organizations such as the American Bar Foundation have been diligent about supporting scholarship on legal education.  Elizabeth Mertz's superb work on the language of law is just one of many examples of the fruits of this support.  The ABA and AALS have been less actively invested in this area and, consistent with resources constraints, ought to have more skin in the game.  But, in the end, it falls to the law schools themselves to think about creative ways of incentivizing law professors, neophytes and experiences folks alike, to invest energy in some of the big and not-so-big questions involving legal education.

As with any scholarly area, we should be cautious about our priors and follow where the analysis and data leads us.  Fact is that we (present company certainly included) believe we know an enormous amount about legal education, its component parts, its efficacy, and its deficits.  But that we don't know what we don't know is an unmistakable message that more research -- and more support for this research -- is needed. 

On a positive note, the growing scholarship on legal education emerging from creative, diligent folks who are committed to the project (I will here take the prerogative to give a shout-out to Mike Madison, whose imaginative posts on legal education are unfailingly thought provoking, and also to Robin West, whose new book on "Teaching Law" I recommend) gives me every confidence that scholarship on and about legal education may be coming into its golden age.  And, given our predicaments, there has never been a better time!   

 

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on July 3, 2014 at 11:20 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink

Comments

On the Mike Madison (Pittsburgh) reference at the end, I refer you to: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2412238. This "Visions" paper is a nice synthesis of the various posts to which I referred. In a spare moment (!), I will post on my blog a selective bibliography of some of the recent legal education work which I find especially valuable, fwiw. Others, of course, should do likewise.

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jul 3, 2014 11:38:08 AM

I have a bibliography of articles on legal education scholarship at http://sfruehwald.com/lers.htm.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jul 5, 2014 4:36:38 AM

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