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Friday, January 06, 2012

The AALS, Hot Topics, and the Law School Crisis

Via a commenter, I received a link to an Inside Higher Ed story--http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/01/05/law-schools-gather-dc-annual-conference-- in which the executive director of the AALS explains why there are not more panels devoted to "crisis" issues in legal education and the legal economy. Here's a paragraph:

Although the association does add sessions on “hot topics,” including sessions this year on Libya and the Occupy Wall Street protests, those are determined by which proposals are submitted, and there was not a strong proposal for a session on the legal education crisis, Prager said.

Depending on one's judgment of the word "strong," that seems quite inaccurate to me. With Renee Newman Knake, I proposed a hot topic on using the legal ethics class to discuss these very issues with students. If I recall correctly, both Paul Campos and Steve Bainbridge were also part of hot topic proposals devoted to these very current issues. I don't know whether there were others. The AALS certainly had options, and in my biased view they were "strong" ones.

I don't go in for accusing others of having hidden motives, or for general AALS-bashing. They deserve credit for having a number of panels that seem pertinent to these issues. And perhaps they just didn't like the panel proposals for hot topics on "crisis" issues that they got. That said, Prager's quote seems inaccurate to me, and that seems worth saying. They most certainly had several opportunities to do more on these issues than they actually did.

Posted by Paul Horwitz on January 6, 2012 at 09:11 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink


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Thanks for this post and comments, Brian, Paul, and John. As an interested observer (a formerly-prospective academic), this post causes me to reflect: as a practitioner, I once made a pro/con list of reasons to be an academic. On the "pro" side, I wrote, "Freedom to discuss intellectually interesting and practically important issues/ideas with fellow academics, without censorship or worry about financial ramifications of those issues/ideas."

It wholly undermines that "pro" that discussion of a crisis in legal education can be swept under the rug at a premier academic conference.

Posted by: anon | Jan 6, 2012 5:33:51 PM

I suppose I should have made express the fact that I was going to be on the panel and, even if I wasn't, I supported the proposal.

Posted by: John Steele | Jan 6, 2012 12:58:07 PM

I may be mistaken, but the official reaction to the panel Renee Knake and Paul Horwitz were heading up was that the panel "was seen as conflicting with [the full day AALS Workshop on the Future of the Legal Profession and Legal Education]." That quote is from the managing director of the AALS. Perhaps the "not strong" comment doesn't reflect the real reason or perhaps people in the AALS had more than one view about the proposed panel.

It's also worth noting that the panel had a specific focus (one that was prompted by a blog post here, btw). It was, "Teaching PR/Legal Ethics/Legal Profession in a Recession." I felt the proposal was quite strong (at least for the PR crowd that was the core of the intended audience) and I don't think the proposed panel conflicted with the full day program, unless they had a specific panel on teaching PR in the economic downturn.

Posted by: John Steele | Jan 6, 2012 12:56:46 PM

It would be good to know exactly who makes the decision to approve or deny these panels. Any way to discover that information?

Posted by: anon | Jan 6, 2012 12:27:58 PM

As usual, Paul, you offer a restrained and charitable take, even as you make your point. I will be more blunt. I was on two proposed "hot topics" panels relating to the law school crisis (including your panel), both of which included well known critics and knowledgeable proponents of genuine reform of legal academia.

The information I had hoped to share with fellow law professors covers essential facts about tuition, debt, jobs, revenues, expenses--stuff we all should know. I have no doubt that the other members of the proposed panels would have provided essential information on the issues currently confronting law schools. I thought that at least one of these panels would be accepted, but both were turned down.

Given the caliber of the participants and the obvious relevance of the topics, it is not plausible to assert that there "was not a strong proposal for a session on the legal education crisis."

I have no idea why AALS denied both panels, but their decision gives off the appearance that leaders in the organization would prefer that these issues not be raised. Or more precisely, the appearance is that AALS is willing to prominently feature certain "reformers" (long time members of the academic establishment), but not others, including people like me who might be critical of the AALS itself.

Posted by: Brian Tamanaha | Jan 6, 2012 12:11:57 PM

Wow what a coincidence, I just literally made this exact point in a comment at Campos's blog. To say the proposal was "not strong" is worse than not saying anything at all.

Posted by: anon | Jan 6, 2012 11:58:45 AM

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