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Saturday, October 01, 2011

The Consumer Complaint

Now and again when a student does not like a rule for class conduct or a particular assignment we hear the cry: "we paid for this class so we can [miss class, come in late, turn an assignment in late . . . fill in the blank]." The "law student as consumer" dictating the course construct is a phenomenon that has likely been discussed here before, but I wonder if anyone has noticed an increase in these "consumer complaints" in recent years. During my most recent consumer complaint experience, I was hosting a guest speaker who responded by telling the student that when she was in law school, one of her professors demanded that all students be in their seats by the start of class or they were locked out of the classroom. This concept produced the response that the late student in that scenario was entited to a refund for tuition. The guest and I indicated that when a consumer is late for other professional or paid services, such as a doctor's appointment or a play, the consumer/patient/client/patron must also follow rules and often must still pay for that missed appointment or miss or enter a show during the second act. Is the law-student-as- consumer a trend without end and if so, what is your response to such complaints?

Posted by DBorman on October 1, 2011 at 10:30 PM | Permalink


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. . . and those two appreciative posts by redwise were mine. My multiple Typepad identities became confused.

Posted by: Debbie Borman | Oct 2, 2011 6:54:09 PM

...and it was Harper's, that other monthly magazine.

Posted by: anonymous | Oct 2, 2011 6:50:00 PM

You are welcome. Sorry for the botched third sentence.

Posted by: anonymous | Oct 2, 2011 6:44:54 PM

Thank you, anonymous. And here's the paper I wanted to cite: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=999813

Posted by: redwise | Oct 2, 2011 6:33:43 PM

The "consumer orientation" of law schools has nothing to do with the claims that "anon" at 4:51 is making. This is the problem with tunnel vision. Years ago, Mark Edmunsdon wrote a much discussed article about the rise of students- as- consumers in a piece for the Atlantic Monthly many years ago. He is an English prof and was talking about undergrads at UVA. http://www.student.virginia.edu/~decweb/lite/2.html.

Posted by: anonymous | Oct 2, 2011 6:28:55 PM

I was just writing to respond to anon while I was reading and commenting on the 4th of 35 student memos, when my response disappeared. So Paul and anonprof: thanks for addressing a couple of the points I was going to cover regarding the rampant generalizations about work hours, high salary and practice in the meantime. As for "actual practice," many of us teaching skills classes have always believed that it is vital to bring the real world to our students through our own experience and guest speakers, and to bring the students to the real world of practice via many important routes. And at some schools writing and skills profs are the only profs who actually relate learning to the real world. But not at all schools: One colleague here wrote artfully about his experience of bringing his students to the real world and a real labor situation and the tension between that experience and student consumer concerns. You can read about his experience in this wonderful article that I cannot figure out how to link here. Colleague, if you are reading this post would you be so kind as to respond with a link to your article about your non-classroom educational experience involving unionizing janitors at U Miami?

Posted by: redwise | Oct 2, 2011 5:30:46 PM

I find the rumor that professors work 10-20 hours per week amusing. I work more as a professor than I did in private practice. Also, as with most professors (aside from those at the highest ranked schools), I certainly did not start at $150,000/year.

Posted by: anonprof | Oct 2, 2011 5:18:56 PM

Debbie, you're right that it's been written about before here; you might track down a couple of posts I've put up about it on Prawfs at different times. If I get a chance I'll put up a response. Let me say in brief that, without in any way trying to deny the critiques of legal education raised by the commenter above, I think the consumer orientation in law school is not directly related to those points, especially the first and third points; I'm less certain about the relationship to the second point, about whether law schools are failing to offer practical training. To the extent (not a total extent, but a substantial one) that those complaints have mostly arisen since the late financial difficulties, the shift toward a stronger "consumer" orientation predates them. In saying so I'm not trying to deny, argue with, or, really, address the points made by the commentator; I'm just suggesting that while the current student mood and current circumstances and discussions may have added some emphasis to the consumer orientation, I don't believe it is responsible for it.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Oct 2, 2011 5:18:36 PM

This all stems from a fundamental disrespect for the character of professors, which stems from the fraud that law schools commit when they print false career placement numbers to lure tuition money away from more deserving programs. Another reason for lack of respect is that you don't learn much about the *actual* practice of law in law school, combined with rumors that professors make $150,000+ per year + generous benefits for working 10-20 hours per week. In summary, if you want respect in life you have to earn it. You can instill fear in students by threatening their grades, but until the above changes professors won't get respect.

Posted by: anon | Oct 2, 2011 4:51:00 PM

Patrick Luff: My guess is that your law school also lists a tuition rate for those incoming students but the law schools believes that it ought to be free to deviate from that initial tuition policy after the fact and raise tuition a certain amount each year. And even if your school doesn't fall into that particular trap and keeps each class cohort's tuition the same, other schools certainly change tuition midstream.

Law students may be consumers, but they are consumers in a tightly controlled monopolized market. The comparison to a consumer at a doctor's office, rather than a starbucks, is probably best. But they are still consumers and, overtime, if they're not given a product that has value they may go elsewhere. The real consumer driven aspect in law school should not be accommodating eating in class but rather delivering on the service they are actually paying for--an education program designed to get the students a job after they graduate.

Posted by: Juan Carlos | Oct 2, 2011 11:39:41 AM

At my school (and presumably at every school), policies on attendance, tardiness, and professors' discretion to modify grades are addressed in the law school catalog. Students agree to these policies as a condition of attending the law school, so I fail to see (or at least to appreciate) the argument that they ought to be free to deviate from these policies after the fact.

Posted by: Patrick Luff | Oct 2, 2011 10:26:37 AM

I'm teaching Chinese law students at a Chinese law school, and not one has ever voiced anything other than gratitude to the foreign professors for coming to China to teach them. I can't imagine one of them trying to justify coming late to class with a ridiculous argument like "I'm the customer and the customer is always right." They do sometimes show up late, though, and I find that stopping the class and telling them that coming late is rude and disrespectful is usually enough to ensure timely attendance.

Posted by: Doug Levene | Oct 2, 2011 1:47:47 AM

This attitude is somewhat inevitable as law school tuition outpaces the actual value of the JD. What I would be curious to know (though obviously there's no way to find out) is whether it's less prevalent among students receiving substantial financial aid packages.

Posted by: Patrick | Oct 1, 2011 10:42:46 PM

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