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Monday, November 21, 2011

Complaints about law schools as efforts to shift costs to law schools

Just a quick thought on the David Segal piece, following up on Matt's and Michael's posts:  First, I think we are all sensitive to the fact that a great many of our students and recent graduates are anxious about the job market for lawyers and about the heavy weight of student-loan debts, and articles like Segal's reflect (even if they also exploit) that justifiable anxiety.  And, one does not have to be the scam-blogger to think that those of us who are blessed with the opportunity to teach and write about law have a moral obligation to prioritize the task of reducing (even though we cannot eliminate) that anxiety, in every way that we can.

That said, I thought the Segal piece was, at the end of the day, off-base.  It has its true, and truthy, moments, but it seems to take as its starting point a claim about legal eduation that is clearly false, namely, that there is something new about the fact that law schools do not produce graduates who are, at graduation, practicing lawyers, but instead produce graduates who have been comprehensively trained and pushed (we hope) to "think like lawyers."  There never was a time, though -- or, there hasn't been a time since Langdell, etc. -- when recent graduates were "practice ready" and, if anything, today's graduates are the beneficiaries of more practical and experiential opportunities than were available before law professors got side-tracked by "chin stroking" scholarship.

I think that what's going on here is not that courageous voices-of-reform are urging a return to a better time of more "practical" legal education -- a time before those gosh-darn crits and economists forgot about the need of the bench and bar for more useful treatises -- but is instead that law-firm partners, confronted with the fact that clients are no longer willing, as they long were, to pay for the work of young associates (and thereby both subsidize the apprenticeship of those young lawyers and enable partners to take home more money than their own billables would warrant), are finding it convenient to take advantage of the anxieties caused by the economy (and perhaps also by the publicly-subsidized over-production of lawyers) and to dress up as "calls for reform" their efforts to shift the work (and costs) of training and apprenticeship -- work that was always more theirs than the law school's -- to law schools.

In other words, in the spirit of "not letting a crisis go to waste," I think this piece is (yet) another example of dressing up familiar (and often self-interested) complaints about legal education as insightful and brave calls for urgently needed reform.  We are in a recession, and our law schools are producing more lawyers than, it appears, the legal sector is able (or willing) to absorb.  This is a problem, but it has nothing to do with what's in law-review articles.

Posted by Rick Garnett on November 21, 2011 at 12:11 PM in Rick Garnett | Permalink


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Anon 2:22--I can't transfer, I'm tenured. When I asked about the costs of a reduced teaching load, all I got was puzzled stares.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 27, 2011 8:57:40 PM

If your "barely in the top 100" school just adopted a 1/2 load in the current economic and PR environment, then it is run by imbeciles, and you should transfer immediately.

Speaking of which, if every law school in America suddenly decided that Segal and his ilk were on to something and switched to some kind of practice-specific curriculum, how--if at all--would that improve things for new grads? Can we actually expect that large clients would start paying for entry-level associate work again? Would we find a boom in hiring these new, practice-ready grads? Or, would we see the same number of graduates competing for the same (smaller) number of slots?

It seems to me that the real "solution" would be a wider set of legal academic offerings--traditional law schools competing with "practical" ones, adjunct-staffed trade schools up against faculty-governed academies, etc. Then, firms could pick and choose the traits they want in new associates and market these choices to clients. Prospective students could pick and choose among schools based on discernible differences. We'd have real competition.

Of course, that is in direct opposition to the history of anti-competitive behavior within the legal market and the barriers to entry raised by the bar as a trade guild, but one can dream....

Posted by: Anon | Nov 27, 2011 2:22:09 PM

Anon 11:23. I'm not disagreeing that's what your school did, I'm just saying it might not be as common as you think outside of the top 20-30.

Posted by: anon | Nov 27, 2011 2:17:02 PM

My school is barely in the top 100, yet we just adopted a 1/2 load, because "that's what all the other good schools do."

Posted by: Anon 11:23:57 PM | Nov 27, 2011 9:54:18 AM


The key premise to your extremely long argument is that doctors are not solely trained by people who do not treat patients. But that is a logical non-sequitur to your argument that people who do not practice are not qualified to train lawyers. To take your medicine analogy, the question would whether people who do not treat patients are qualified to be doctors. The answer is yes: plenty of medicine professors no longer treat live patients and focus on their more theoretical research.

I can even subscribe to your basic point that lawyers should not be trained solely by people with no practice experience, and concede(again for the sake of argument) that law professors often don't have practice experience. Law professors are not, and have never been, the sole source of training for lawyers. Law graduates join law firms, and medicine graduates have their residency, precisely because your education never really ends.

Posted by: TJ | Nov 27, 2011 3:39:31 AM

Very few schools have a 1/2 load. I've had discussions with several other people who are currently on the teaching job market who, in total, interviewed with about 40 schools (not a giant sample, but still significant). We figure that unless you are in the top 20-30 schools you don't have a chance of getting a 1/2, and not even all of those schools do 1/2.

Posted by: anon | Nov 26, 2011 11:50:48 PM

Yes, some schools do have a 1/2 teaching load. My law school just adopted that policy last week.

Posted by: Anon | Nov 26, 2011 11:23:57 PM

TJ and DF: I'm an employed attorney, not a disgruntled law student or unemployed JD. However, I do not find your reasoning persuasive. You both seem to argue that law students are "paying" for a legal education, such that law professors' writing of law review articles should be of no concern to them. I think this fails to acknowledge the strong connection between the inadequacy of legal teaching and law schools' emphasis on the production of legal scholarship.

We all know the general and highly accurate criticisms: law professors are hired for their putative scholarship ability rather than their teaching skills; they rarely will have any relevant experience in practicing law (two years at a biglaw firm does not count, speaking as someone who put in that length of time at a V25 myself). But the problem runs even deeper, as I discovered when I explored the possibility of an academic career. Junior law professors are quickly conditioned to think that article-writing comes first, and teaching is a secondary responsibility. As Wendel writes in his classic piece on how to get a law "teaching" job, "If there is one thing that schools are looking for, it is someone with fire in his or her belly to produce scholarship about some intellectually significant issue. This matters because at any school with aspirations to be more than a bar-preparation service for in-state practitioners (which is most schools at which you'd want to work), the name of the game is scholarship. Teaching is of secondary importance only. In fact, I sometimes tell students not to think of their goal as getting a "teaching" job at all. It's really a writing job. You will be hired, evaluated, given tenure, promoted, and recognized in the profession based almost entirely on the quality of your scholarship. Even at law schools that make a big deal out of classroom teaching, you will be expected to produce good scholarship. ... You have to understand the nature of the market: Law schools themselves are evaluated in large part based on the quality and prominence of their faculties' scholarship. ... Remember, it’s not really a teaching job you’re pursuing – it’s a writing job. Say it with me: It’s a writing job."

In other words, law students' tuition pays the salaries of individuals who believe that they are "not really [pursuing] a teaching job," but a writing job. This couples with the fact that tenure-track law professors are almost always unqualified to teach students how to practice law, because they have rarely practiced meaningfully for any length of time (or at all, if we subtract biglaw associate "practice" from our calculations). If you dispute that you are unqualified to prepare people for careers as attorneys, consider whether you would:
- Agree to be treated by a doctor who was trained solely by MDs who had rarely, if ever, treated live patients;
- Agree to have your hair cut by a hairdresser who was trained solely by barbers who had never cut real human hair, but had read lots of books and written lots of papers about how hair is cut.

Let me be plainer: legal education is indeed not of sufficiently high quality, and the reason why is that the wrong people are being hired to provide it - people who were unable or unwilling to practice themselves within the field for which they are purportedly qualified to prepare others. And the "wrong people" are easily identifiable ... by their preference for writing articles rather than participating in the practice or judging of law. Your Microsoft/Bill Gates analogy is ludicrous. Here's the accurate analogy:

- The only way we can use a computer is to buy an operating system.
- Our only option for buying an operating system is Microsoft.
- Microsoft is refusing to hire people with OS development experience and is instead hiring non-developers who prefer to spend most of their time flying around in corporate jets while having conversations amongst themselves about interesting ideas in computer science, an activity that generates no value and is otherwise not socially useful.
- Microsoft is able to give us no better than a badly designed OS that the jetsetters threw together in the minimal amount of time that they were not flying around in the corporate jets. The OS is nearly worthless to us: it crashes all the time, and we have to find and pay actual computer scientists to make our computers work.

People like me - who graduated from top schools, got great clerkships, paid off our loans via biglaw, and have moved on to more interesting and socially important areas of law - can more or less forgive the poor-quality product that is legal education, even if we do not believe that you are providing society or your students with anything of much value either via your teaching or your articles. Because our degrees were/are perceived to have a lot of value, the right doors opened, and we got the training we needed to become actual attorneys - the training we should have received in law school, but did not (because you all neither qualified to provide it nor remotely concerned with providing it). But I certainly understand why unemployed or underemployed students from lower-ranked schools are livid: those schools have nothing of value to offer - not the credential, not the teaching, not the practical training, *and* usually not even cutting-edge scholarship.

Posted by: anon | Nov 23, 2011 5:10:20 PM

If something useful about the law can be discerned from Law and The Iliad--if the professor is creative enough to pull it off--why should he/she be scorned?

Posted by: anonymous | Nov 23, 2011 12:16:29 PM

+1 on GU on partner comp. While law schools could (and should) do a better job, the current focus on law schools doesn't make much sense.

Partners, not professors, have decided to curtail hiring. When the demand for legal work slumps, partners could share some of the burden, but instead they transfer the costs to associates. Partners take home more than they produce, why isn't some anger directed at them?

Firm revenues and partner comp soared in the late 1990s, but associates didn't see the bump until 1999. After the bubble burst, hiring fell and associate salaries were flat, but partner comp continued to grow. By mid-bubble, associates saw an increase from $125k, but whatever increase didn't keep up with partner comp. Now, partners won't accept even what they made 10 years ago, so associates got to go.

The professor who teaches "Law and the Iliad" deserves scorn. But, partners who insist on a healthy share of associate-produced revenue, but refuse to share the pain of a weak market deserve more scorn.

Posted by: anon | Nov 23, 2011 10:44:41 AM

Does anyone actually use a 1/2 system? It seems a bit like Sasquatch; you hear stories about it but actual meetings with Sasquatch seem to be few and far between. We do have a "light load" for new law professors during their first semester, but that's because it would be really tough for a new prof to do two new preps in the first semester and do a good job of teaching. But otherwise faculty are expected to teach 2/2. And this seems to be the norm.

Posted by: Stuart Ford | Nov 23, 2011 10:36:46 AM

Elite schools have 2/2 as well.

Posted by: anonymous | Nov 22, 2011 3:49:38 PM

anon@1:46: This is an elite vs. nonelite law schools thing. The non-top-100 school where I teach has a 2:2 load, and that's pretty typical.

Posted by: Jon | Nov 22, 2011 2:21:07 PM

It is curious to me that people are framing the options as either (1) stick with the status quo; or (2) repopulate the faculty with adjuncts.

One obvious problem with the current state of affairs is the reduced teaching loads that faculty enjoy so as to allow for more time for scholarship. I am a firm believer that engagement with the scholarship in one's field can make one a better teacher, but is it really so much to ask professors to teach 2 courses per semester? I wonder how much money would be saved in terms of tuition dollars if a school were to switch from say, a 1/2 to a 2/2 faculty course load policy.

Posted by: anon | Nov 22, 2011 1:46:05 PM

Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

One tool you might consider is the secret shopper model. While the presence of the professor's own colleagues in a classroom would likely be noticed and change the dynamic, it would be easy enough to sneak in a third party observer - particularly in large lecture classes. Perhaps a trusted alumni or someone similar.

If you had the cooperation of the candidate's prior school (assuming the candidate is currently teaching as a VAP, graduate student, adjunct or the like) you could probably arrange the same in the that settings without too much difficulty.

In any event it is heartening to hear that at least at one school the perception of teaching ability can be outcome determinative in a hiring decision. In previous discussions on this topic here and in other places on the web and in person, I was given the impression that at most places it was more of a plus/minus factor.

Posted by: brad | Nov 22, 2011 11:25:01 AM

One reform would be to recognize that no specialized professional school truly produces "practice-ready" anything. Med school grads do an internship, five years of residency and during that first year or so are able to do very little on their own. Social workers practice with close supervision for 3+ years before they can be licensed. Part of the problem with The Times piece is that it takes the perspective that lawyers should be able to practice law the minute they step out of school, an expectation we don't put on any other specialized profession. This is not to say that some reforms in legal education are not necessary (I would favor more, and more closely controlled, internship programs). It is to say that the "crisis" on the second point is not as great as many, including The Times piece, want to suggest.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 22, 2011 9:31:53 AM

There are two main categories of criticism of legal education today -- that it's too expensive, and that it doesn't do a good enough job of educating. Segal's article focuses on the second. I'm interested in knowing (this is a serious question) what reforms people think would be advisable to address that second criticism. My thoughts, for what they're worth: (1) The claim that students don't have available to them courses explaining, say, the difference between a merger and a stock acquisition, isn't well founded. Law schools teach those courses. An individual student may not take one -- but it would be a bad idea, say, to require all students to take the M&A course, whether they're interested in the topic or not. (2) A lot of skills are better taught in a clinical rather than a classroom setting, but clinical education is very expensive, and not all skills (like corporate mergers) lend themselves to being taught in the clinical environment. (3) Teaching/learning time is limited. If the M&A teacher spends more time on nuts-and-bolts "how to fill out forms and file them with the secretary of state," she'll be able to spend less time on topics that are conceptually difficult, that her students will have a harder time learning later on their own. So what reforms would in fact be desirable to generate more "practice-ready lawyers"?

Posted by: Jon | Nov 22, 2011 9:02:48 AM

To Brad's question in more detail: Howard is right that the job talk exists to a large extent to further this purpose, but that's only part of the story.

The all-day interview process to which candidates are subjected also focuses to a large extent on their pedagogy and ideas about teaching. Candidates who clearly haven't given serious thought to teaching, or who lack good communicative/presentation skills based on either the talk or the interviews are non-starters.

Most schools also have students meet with candidates to get their perspective, and at least at our school their impressions are formally considered as part of the examination process.

One final way teaching is considered is that past teaching evaluations (if there are any) are requested and evaluated carefully. If someone has complaints about their teaching, that's a major red flag unless somehow explicable (i.e., the evals are for teaching in a totally different and unrelated context).

So teaching is a central part of the evaluation process, as it should be. Of course, everything I've mentioned is at least somewhat of a proxy for teaching ability, and there's no real way to determine how someone will perform in a classroom without putting them there, and that's the challenge. It's an iteration of the NFL quarterback problem--you can't really know how good someone is at certain jobs until they actually do that job (and this describes most hiring decisions, not just law teachers), so relying on proxies is necessary.

But I do agree with the final point you raise; I think this uncertainty could be remedied by making the tenure process more exacting and rigorous. If someone turns out to be a poor teacher by the time tenure rolls around, they likely aren't going to get the hang of it (there's a learning curve, sure, but after 5 years if you are a poor teacher, that's unlikely to change). I'd like to see teaching proficiency be taken as seriously as scholarship at this stage, so that mediocre teaching as well as mediocre scholarship could be a basis for tenure denial.

That said, it is actually pretty difficult to get "hard data" on teaching. Evaluations themselves often reward the wrong things--students may give high ratings to professors for being funny, or good-looking, or for spoon-feeding them blackletter law, or for not challenging them in class. Another problem is that some teaching styles work well for certain students but not for others (hence evals are often very split, with some students giving high praise and others trashing the very same prof in the very same class).

I'm not a complete pessimist about student evals, though. I think they're helpful at the margins. It would be interesting, though, to have other ways of evaluating teaching that could give us better assessment at the tenure stage.

Posted by: DF | Nov 22, 2011 12:36:33 AM

How can we take the claim that law schools take teaching seriously when the hiring process demands concrete, demonstrated ability in scholarship, but relies on weak proxies and intuition for assesing teaching ability? With tenure virtually guaranteed a tenure track hiring decision represents an outlay of millions of dollars. How much would it cost to get some hard data on teaching ability?

Posted by: Brad | Nov 21, 2011 11:29:16 PM

In theory, that is what the job talk is partly for. We can get a sense of how well a candidate speaks to a room, how much presence she has, how well she communicates ideas, and how well she responds to questions. That's pretty much everything someone must do in a classroom, except run a Socratic dialogue. It's not perfect, but it tells us something.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 21, 2011 11:10:15 PM

I'm on five committees, including hiring, and it takes up a massive amount of time
Even if you think a law school should be nothing more than a trade school, a concern is that while adjuncts are often very good teachers who bring important practical perspectives to law students' experiences, some (and I say this as someone who's reviewed many adjunct classes) are not good at teaching, either because their busy practices make it difficult to devote enough time to their work, or because they just aren't good at delivering the knowledge they possess.

Did you ever observe a potential hire for a tenure or tenure track position in the classroom before deciding whether or not to extend an offer?

Posted by: Brad | Nov 21, 2011 7:52:50 PM

"But, as Bill Henderson's work persuasively demonstrates, major law firms increasingly adopted an unsustainable model built on clients' willingness to tolerate excessive costs, including training costs."

Unsustainable in the sense that $2mm profits per partner can't be sustained without drastically curtailing hiring. Not unsustainable if partners were wiling to tolerate a travesty like PPP of $500k.

Posted by: GU | Nov 21, 2011 7:45:45 PM

A few points connected to these various comments.

First, to echo TJ's point, tuition does not "pay for" law review articles. It (partially) funds professors' salaries. Part of what professors do is write law review articles, since the function of a law school should be to produce both well-trained graduates as well as to produce interesting ideas that advance understanding of the law. What law students pay for is a quality legal education, and they're absolutely entitled to that. If someone could show that legal education is not of sufficiently high quality, and that law review articles are the reason, then I'd agree that it would be a major concern. But in all the griping about law scholarship, I haven't seen any such argument, and I'm pretty sure the reason is that it doesn't exist.

Second, if professors were banned from writing law review articles in response to concerns that their scholarship was not useful, what would change? Poor teachers would still be bad at the teaching aspects of their jobs. You'd probably also lose a lot of the many very good law teachers for whom the project of writing about law is a central (though not necessarily dominant) appeal of the job. If anything, I've seen a direct correlation between law professors who are devoted scholars and devoted teachers (and the reverse--I've seen many professors who appear to have thrown in the towel on both fronts). If there are specific critiques of law teaching, I think we should discuss them, but that's a separate issue.

Third, would it be possible to have a law faculty fully staffed with adjuncts? I'm skeptical that this would work, since law schools are self-governing and a major required time investment for all law professors is to devote themselves to governance via committees, etc. Related, this is a part of the work law professors do that students who complain about faculty salaries never consider. I'm on five committees, including hiring, and it takes up a massive amount of time. I'm fine with that, since I love my job and am happy to do a massive amount of work to do it well, but this is one more reason why the laughably inaccurate stereotype of the law professor who spends all his time writing is, well, laughably inaccurate. The really excellent professors I know work extremely hard on all three aspects of the job (teaching, scholarship, service).

Fourth, would it be preferable to have a law faculty populated entirely by adjuncts? I'm skeptical again. Even if you think a law school should be nothing more than a trade school, a concern is that while adjuncts are often very good teachers who bring important practical perspectives to law students' experiences, some (and I say this as someone who's reviewed many adjunct classes) are not good at teaching, either because their busy practices make it difficult to devote enough time to their work, or because they just aren't good at delivering the knowledge they possess.

All this is not to say that the legal academy has no flaws. It has plenty, and I'm all for talking about them. I remain a huge skeptic of tenure, for example, and would at least like to see more robust post-tenure oversight of professors, especially in the classroom. But the weird focus on law review articles strikes me as a distraction from the real, important issue of making sure we maintain the highest level of teaching quality possible.

Posted by: DF | Nov 21, 2011 7:40:57 PM

There are important points in Professor Garnett's post and Professor Boyden's comment that merit some elaboration. Professor Garnett is surely correct that complaints about the prevelance of theory in legal education are not new -- in researching this issue for an article I recently published, I found that this complaint dated back many decades. What seems to be new (as Professor Boyden suggests) is law firms' (and their clients') increasing reluctance to absorb training costs. In the boom times, at least among the best capitalized firms, there was a widespread feeling that the firms themselves would probably do a better job imparting practicasl skills than a legal academy largely populated by theoreticians. It was, of course, easy for firms to take that view as long as they could externalize training costs to their clients. But, as Bill Henderson's work persuasively demonstrates, major law firms increasingly adopted an unsustainable model built on clients' willingness to tolerate excessive costs, including training costs. Now, predictably, the bubble has burst, and the market is less interested in law school gradudates that come with substantial training costs attached.

Of course, those who ignore the demands of the market act at their peril. The complaints of students, I think, are produced by their sense they are largely bearing the costs of the legal academy's reluctance to reform legal pedagogy. Of course, as long as students continue to flock to schools that champion theory, they will also bear a share of the blame for their diminished employment prospects.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

Posted by: Larry Rosenthal | Nov 21, 2011 7:14:41 PM

And besides which students do not "pay" Rick (or me) to write scholarship, any more than we "pay" Microsoft to buy a corporate jet for Bill Gates. Students pay for their legal education, and we pay for Windows. You can argue (and many have argued) that it is a terrible product (e.g. classes are not practical enough), that the product costs too much, and that the product was sold under false pretenses. But please don't mischaracterize the product that you are buying.

Posted by: TJ | Nov 21, 2011 5:46:12 PM

Ah, so we want scholarship that has "practical" application to the bench and bar. Unless we don't like the topic, then professors are "troll[ing] the supreme court [sic] bar on a dead issue." Isn't the idea that more practical scholarship will revive important issues? Critics of law professors can't have it both ways.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Nov 21, 2011 4:21:41 PM

Have you finished writing articles about how Wickard v. Filburn was wrong yet Prof. Garnett? That's great that you want to troll the supreme court bar on a dead issue. That's your right as a citizen But I think it's fair to ask why students should pay you to do that.

Posted by: anon | Nov 21, 2011 3:42:21 PM

Otherstudent -- I'm sorry that you think, and that my post apparently made you think, that I (and other law profs who react negatively to the NYT piece) do not understand and appreciate students' frustrations about student-loan debts and rapidly increasing tuition. I do (at least, I think I do). And, I don't think it's true -- but if it were, it would be really bad -- that we are "taking advantage" of students' willingness to take on debt. My only point is that the fact that the legal-services sector is in a tough spot, and the fact that many students are paying a lot of money to find themselves competing for fewer jobs, are not (in my view) really the result of either law professors' scholarship or, more generally, the focus in legal education on "thinking like a lawyer." I wish you the best.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 21, 2011 3:05:52 PM

Bruce, I don't think that the word "shifting" has to involve any judgments about the normative appear or efficiency of the status quo. I meant only a descriptive point, i.e., for a long time, the bar has participated, along with the law schools, in the formation of practice-capable lawyers, and they have been able (even if not happy) to do so because they charge clients a lot of money for even junior associates' time. Now, that arrangement is less appealing, because clients don't want to pay for junior associates' time, and so -- not wanting to subsidize that training themselves -- they want to push "their" part of the process to law schools. I take you to be saying that maybe that's where it always should have been. That's fine. I am only trying to push back on (what I see as) the myth that law schools used to have (before [insert bad thing here] happened) and do a job that they stopped doing, but should start to do again.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Nov 21, 2011 2:34:47 PM

There are so many different complaints, it's hard to sort them out. But I really don't understand the complain that having more clinical courses or practitioners in the classroom would really be a boon to students. I don't see students in clinics more prepared to practice law when they graduate than students who take all non-clinical courses. The reality is that one acquires practice skills by practicing law. This is true for many reasons. So if the complaint is about being practice-ready, it may make sense for schools to try to partner with firms, or for the ABA to require some kind of apprenticeship for attorneys. That may also require shortening law school to 2 years, or it may require something else. But I highly doubt the answer to the problem is to have more practitioners teaching courses in schools.

Posted by: anon | Nov 21, 2011 1:59:22 PM

"Taught almost exclusively by attorneys"

What does this mean? Take the writer of this post, Richard Garnett. The guy is extremely well-credentialed, but his legal experience is limited to two whopping years at a law firm. Does that make him an attorney? Just because you have a JD does not mean that you're an attorney, nor does it mean that you are teaching students how to become better attorneys. Just look at a law school's course offerings, for heaven's sake.

Posted by: otherstudent | Nov 21, 2011 1:20:48 PM

Law students spend upwards of $100,000 and three years of their lives in law school, being taught almost exclusively by attorneys. At the end, they are capable of writing a memorandum of law and understanding most of the terms they will hear in their bar review course. Again: $100,000+, 3 years of their lives. Okay.

Meanwhile, a law firm has to serve clients as best as they are able, provided that they follow ethical guidelines for the profession. This would entail ensuring that a law graduate is given no more responsibility than a senior associate or partner can supervise, because the law graduate is presumed to know nothing about the most basic application of his education, e.g., law practice.

Is the status quo really as it should be, or are you just annoyed that decades upon decades of abdicated responsibility by law schools has left your generation of professors holding the check?

Posted by: John | Nov 21, 2011 1:14:50 PM

The idea of "shifting" costs implies that the costs are properly where they are. I'm curious about at least the subjective experience of that, though, from the firm side -- was there ever a time when practicing lawyers were basically happy with the state of training of law school graduates? I know everyone thinks that time was right before they started practice, but that's what has me skeptical.

Posted by: Bruce Boyden | Nov 21, 2011 12:54:30 PM

Even if the article and its comments are more a product of modern economic developments than modern legal scholarship (which is not all that different from historic legal scholarship), perhaps we ought to ask whether legal scholarship should change as a result of the changing economy for new lawyers. In other words, one need not accept the premise that legal scholarship has changed for the worse in order ask whether legal scholarship OUGHT to change, and whether that might be for the better.

Posted by: Lawyer | Nov 21, 2011 12:46:26 PM

There never was a time, though -- or, there hasn't been a time since Langdell, etc. -- when recent graduates were "practice ready" and, if anything, today's graduates are the beneficiaries of more practical and experiential opportunities than were available before law professors got side-tracked by "chin stroking" scholarship.

Langdell gets a negative mention in the article.

I think there may be a Great Stagnation (Cowen) element at play here. the nineteenth and twentieth centuries at least until 1970 was an era of historically extraordinary productivity, and thus wealth, growth. In such a world there is room for all sorts of luxuries.

If, as Cowen believes, we are entering a long era of secular stagnation it means taking a look at some of those luxuries and seeing what we can live without. For 800 some odd years law was learned using an apprenticeship system. Perhaps it didn't produce the kind of thoughtful lawyer-philosophers that is the aspiration of a modern law school but society seemed to have gotten along ok.

Why shouldn't someone who has worked for pay under the supervision of a licensed attorney for six years with perhaps a few CLE type classes sprinkled in be allowed to sit for the bar?

Posted by: brad | Nov 21, 2011 12:35:34 PM

This post misses a lot about why we law students are disgruntled by the way law schools are run today. First, note that the egregiously high law school tuitions--funding the absurdly high salaries of professors writing about King Lear and the law or whatever--are fundamentally based upon the legal market. There's no way that I, for example, would be going to law school if I weren't able to secure a high-paying job upon graduation. That "guarantee" is no longer guaranteed like it was in 2005-07.

And now that we look more critically at the law school experience we're paying for, I will say that I feel outraged at the fact that my tuition funds the creation of mostly useless "legal scholarship" from overpaid law faculties. So yes, law students do resent their faculty quite a bit. To be totally honest, I would not be a legal academic if for no other reason than that I think it is a seriously shameful profession at this point, taking advantage of students' willingness (or lack of understanding) to take on easily-secured federal student loans. When some think of the "dirty law profession," they might think of some movie like The Firm or something like that. Personally, I think of websites that often have a law at the beginning and a .edu at the end.

Posted by: otherstudent | Nov 21, 2011 12:33:50 PM

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