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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Where’s the Elephant in Your Law School?

This past weekend in Los Angeles, a new art show by British graffiti artist Banksy opened.  The show, called “Barely Legal,” (one of the hooks for this blog post) featured a painted elephant.  As the LA Times explains:

The warehouse was decorated as a living room, complete with furniture, chandelier and the standing Indian elephant.

Cards were handed out explaining: "There's an elephant in the room. There's a problem we never talk about. The fact is that life isn't getting any fairer…. 20 billion people live below the poverty line."

Apparently, however, this created a whole other set of problems for the artist.  Animal rights activists were unhappy with the use of a live elephant in his show. 

So, I’m going to use this as a segue to ask if there is an elephant (gorilla?) somewhere in our law schools?  A problem that is so common that no one talks about or discusses it?

Posted by Miriam Cherry on September 17, 2006 at 03:59 PM in Odd World | Permalink


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Many professors do not enjoy teaching.

Posted by: anon | Sep 21, 2006 8:27:38 AM

Professor Cherry, At every school I have had involvement with (of all rankings), they claim to take anonymity seriously. But upon further questioning, it turns out that after grading tests, professors can adjust grades for participation. I forgot what school you are at, but unless every portion of every grade is anonymous (as in “bar exam-style-double-blind”) then it just isn’t anonymous.

Practicing law is tough. It can be mentally and physically draining. Doing a trial requires a lot of stamina, and when someone’s life is on the line (as it is, in most felony trials) it is mentally demanding. 1L is nothing compared to this. If you can’t handle the stress on 1L, it is a fair bet that you probably can’t handle most things lawyers do.

Anon1L, I don’t know whether students are concerned at your school or not – or whether they tell you – but for many, getting these adjustments is the brass ring.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 19, 2006 6:50:14 AM

having schools/profs fit grades to a curve when the curve doesn't really have much educational value and may discourage working together and helping others. Whilst legal jobs increasingly demand colaboration.

Posted by: FS | Sep 18, 2006 6:28:11 PM

At my school, at least, they take anonymity seriously, which eliminates much of the concerns about favoritism. Is this really perceived to be that much of a problem?

It's fairly well accepted here that professors can adjust your grade up or down by half a letter based on subjective criteria (participation, preparedness -- it's all at the prof's discretion). That said, here at least, it doesn't seem to be anything that students are actively concerned about.

Posted by: anon1L | Sep 18, 2006 5:52:00 PM

The question posed was open-ended, although the focus did drift.

I'm going to disagree with some of the comments and say that I do think that law student anxiety and depression are serious, serious issues that aren't discussed as much as they should be. The answer isn't "see a shrink" if a significant percentage of a 1L class is having panic attacks! Then that shifts to an institutional concern...

Oh, gosh, there's much more here that I'd like to respond to. At my school, at least, they take anonymity seriously, which eliminates much of the concerns about favoritism. Is this really perceived to be that much of a problem?

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Sep 18, 2006 5:24:02 PM

anon-- sorry for opening up this miserable can of worms.

s.cotus-- my original comment about conservatives was really just an ill-guided attempt to add to the comments on "elephants" in law school, and was probably as serious as my 3 other tongue-in-cheek comments. conservatives who, with a straight face, whine about a hostile academic climate are sissies. and scalia is a big boy and if someone asks him about sodomizing his wife, again, i don't think it's a big deal...he's perfectly capable of defending himself.

i do think protests at certain events are silly-- (it's funny seeing law students who wear j.crew khakis simultaneously donning black hoods to commiserate with abu ghraib prisoners)...but in the end, i suppose the laughter those protests provided outweigh whatever annoyances they may have caused, so all is well.

Posted by: andy | Sep 18, 2006 1:43:06 PM

Okay, let’s summarize:

1) Law schools are really a proxy for social position in society. On the front end, people with higher social positions are more likely to go to law school. During law school, those with the ability to “act” better – and interact with professors (sexually or platonically) as if they are of the same social class – will be rewarded with a better place on a subjectively-defined grade curve. Finally, after law school, law schools see themselves as feeders for large law firms.

2) Law schools are not sure if they are professional schools or academic programs. Therefore a) senior faculty don’t publish; and b) faculty don’t encourage *all* students to publish. Likely because of this, many students stop going to class, and few schools will actually penalize (i.e. flunk) such students.

3) What constitutes an“ideal” professor is never discussed. Should s/he be a practitioner, philosopher, or just someone who succeeded in the game mentioned in point #1.

4) Politics somehow plays a part in law schools. What this part is -- people differ -- but many seem concerned about it.

(I don’t consider 1L depression or anxiety to be a problem. It is nothing compared to what poor people facing life in jail go through. So this doesn't get a number. If you have depression; see a shrink.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 18, 2006 9:59:27 AM

The elephant in the room at law schools is that they are neither successful professional schools nor successful academic schools. I think the fact that most non-prawf commentators have pointed out the first fact ("profs who never practiced law teaching students how to practice law") while a prawf commentator has pointed out the second (senior faculty who didn't produce scholarship etc.) proves my point.

Posted by: Matt | Sep 18, 2006 9:40:51 AM

Hi Miriam -- One possible elephant, at many law schools, is the fact that many of the more senior faculty charged with reviewing and evaluating the scholarship of more junior faculty were not, themselves, expected to engage in scholarship to the extent their junior colleagues are.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Sep 18, 2006 8:55:25 AM

How did this thread degenerate into this? Focus, people.

Posted by: anon | Sep 18, 2006 8:08:33 AM

I am now a bit more curious as to how “affirmative action” clerkships are a problem, and whether they really exist or not.

Andy, Take a step back. What you consider to be rude behavior – not making visitors comfortable – is generally tolerated. Whether wearing a black hood is “rude” or not is anyone’s guess, and you are really taking a political position if your entire analysis of what would be tolerated is just “I can’t imagine…” If NYU had chosen to discipline a student who asked Scalia a rhetorical, politically-charged, yet well-thought out question, there would be many other problems.

But, you raise another question: why do law schools need to have Scalia, Sharpton, Gonzales, Reno, etc. speak. It isn’t as if they are going to really help people understand issues. They give pretty much the same speech everywhere. Public speeches are hardly a forum for scholarly discourse, anyway. And, if someone challenges that person’s writing in a colorful way, it is considered rude.

*I think the “sodomy” question was well-thought-out, because Scalia’s Lawrence dissent did imply that straight peoples’ consensual sexual activity had always – and should be – regulated by the state.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 18, 2006 6:46:00 AM

"I never really understood how a law student could have a viewpoint. There is just too much to learn."

Fair enough. I usually did not attend class, and when I did, I thought most profs did a fine job of managing classroom discussion. I'm thinking more along the lines of attending events on campus that students protest. (E.g. when Alberto Gonzales visited, several students wore black hoods and held up a banner in the middle of the room, blocking the view for those of us who actually wanted to see AG Gonzalez speak)...and when scalia spoke at NYU, of course there were various juvenile protests...and Patrick Fitzgerald's appearance at Mich caused some minor annoyances. Can't imagine this rude behavior would be tolerated if speakers who shared the majority's view came to speak.

Posted by: andy | Sep 18, 2006 1:19:53 AM

Twenty billion. Yeah, I was just quoting the newstory, which was (apparently) quoting the artist Banksy. Possible they got it wrong, or that Banksy just can't count...

I am thinking more seriously about the various elephants that commentors have identified. Because either 1) they're serious problems or 2) I'm not sure they're problems, but the fact that people think these are problems is troubling. More on this later...

Posted by: Miriam Cherry | Sep 18, 2006 12:42:23 AM

14. Professors who have little experience actually practicing the law.

15. Depression among students due to the intense pressure of law school.

Posted by: a lawyer | Sep 17, 2006 11:50:50 PM

I never really understood how a law student could have a viewpoint. There is just too much to learn. Somehow some professors pretend to care about the political views of students.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 17, 2006 8:45:02 PM

Twenty billion people?

Posted by: Anon | Sep 17, 2006 7:59:30 PM

I should have said "whinging." But yeah, I think you proved the point pretty well.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Sep 17, 2006 7:12:28 PM

"9) disdain for diverse viewpoints (i.e. conservative ones)"

"12) Pathetic conservative whining..."

Point proven?

Posted by: andy | Sep 17, 2006 7:09:13 PM

12) Pathetic conservative whining about supposed ill-treatment that exists in an uncomfortable relationship with the trendiness of conservative legal movements like law & econ and the near oblivion of lefty legal movements like critical legal studies.
13) Prelevance of affirmative action for conservatives in clerkships.

Posted by: Bart Motes | Sep 17, 2006 6:02:12 PM

8) profs who have never had real jobs teaching students about the law
9) disdain for diverse viewpoints (i.e. conservative ones)
10) 90% of students surfing the net while prof speaks
11) Kid in row 2, seat 3, breathes through his nose

Posted by: andy | Sep 17, 2006 5:42:00 PM

Seven elephants in law schools:

1) “Anonymous” grading that is not anonymous (that is, the students can adjust grades upwards though good schmoozing).
2) Preference for large lawfirm employment of students
3) Faculty not encouraging (in fact, often discouraging) all students to publish resulting in general perception that law school is less rigorous than other graduate programs.
4) Fact that deans pretend not to care about USN rankings, but really do.
5) Fact that most students come from same economic background.
6) Grade curves that are based on perceived position of one law school with relation to another (which the schools deny).
7) Approval of sexual relationships between faculty and students.

Posted by: S.cotus | Sep 17, 2006 4:28:11 PM

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