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Saturday, December 08, 2012

The Present and Future of AALS?

While I suppose this question is the rough equivalent of putting a "kick me" sign on my shirt, let me press ahead nonetheless and ask this:

What are your good ideas for the AALS as an organization going forward, especially in these remarkably difficult times for legal education?  I have the opportunity to play a leadership role in the association for the next little while (being nominated as president-elect at the upcoming annual meeting).  My sense is that we can do much better as a group in furthering the myraid objectives of the law professoriate.  Moreover, I would like to use my (small) bully pulpit to advance objectives that are critical to our collective future.

I have various thoughts to be sure.  What are yours?

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on December 8, 2012 at 11:41 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I second Horowitz's suggestion that the ABA and AALS join forces to sort through the crisis in the cost of legal education, the crisis in employment for graduates and more generally a rethinking of the business model of law schools. Forget the task force model--too big and bureaucratic.

Posted by: Daria Roithmayr | Dec 12, 2012 12:48:33 AM

Echoing Jim's comment. Indeed, amplifying it: why not make the annual meeting a real conference? Real conference, here, means things like many many more papers, an actual call for papers not dependent on arcane section and theme bureaucracy, etc.

Posted by: Paul Gowder | Dec 11, 2012 12:27:01 AM

This comment may be a little too far afield, but as someone in her first year of academia, I am finding the small subject-specific conferences I attend to be helpful for networking, learning about others' work, staying abreast of developments, getting feedback on my own work, etc. I can't figure out what the giant all-encompassing AALS meeting(s) offer that those don't, aside from committee work (which, again, creates smaller slices of scholars whether by geography, specialty, senior, or something else). If I get a certain travel budget each year it seems it will always be far better spent on several school-hosted conferences in my field than one giant AALS mishmosh. What am I missing?

Posted by: VAP star | Dec 10, 2012 11:00:40 PM

Make the AALS more about academic excellence, perhaps by having the sections sponsor awards for scholarship, undertake peer review to select panels and panelists, and take some responsibility for peer reviewed publication of scholarship in the field.

Posted by: Jim Pfander | Dec 10, 2012 10:35:18 PM

"I would start by changing the question to 'What can we do as law professors to advance the cause of legal education?'"
"I would start by changing the question to 'What can we do as law professors to advance the cause of the legal profession?'"

Not to derail a promising discussion about whether the AALS is best seen as part of the professor cartel or the lawyer cartel, but I would suggest perhaps thinking about the needs of society that might be served by law schools and law professors. Perhaps, "What can we do as legal educators to see that society's changing needs for efficiently provided legal services can be met?"

Posted by: Ray Campbell | Dec 10, 2012 8:08:12 AM

as far as the shoulder back is concerned. that move was undermined i believe when first attempted due to criticism by a crazy german professor i had years ago. the "full package" accompanying the shoulder bag, including the hair-polish does not come equipped with gutter grading and a defamed brand, unless you believe in half-assed approaches or posers. it would be simple to undermine the critics if a foundation existed by which the criticism can be shifted internally, but now that the grading inquiry and scandal has essentially reached the ears of the broader community, its given the person in the drivers seat no motivation or reason to justify change. why upgrade when the person you're upgrading for doesnt appreciate you in the first place and hates you? if you want to argue that it should be done for one's self, then that assumes that the person is not already equipped to handle something so burdensome yet meaningless. For example, if you intentionally discriminate against someone in a multitude of ways at work as their boss, do you really expect them to go the extra mile for you when they're getting paid minimum wage and have other offers available? the foundation i speak of is strictly to put this nightmare to rest at the expense of a year of a person's life; not to get hired by someone who contributed to it to some extent and who was in on it. i have no ill feelings, but im no sucker at the same time, and know that even if such third-party arrangement were setup, that the chances of remaining there are left to the sole discretion of the partner. i think the group's desire to leave should be honored, and knowing that it will not implicate the broader public in the future, should motivate the administrators to exercise their executive powers and issue an override veto so that the agreement can be honored to the furthest extent possible to avoid failure by writing off some of the prior year's shortcomings.

Posted by: lerryhenderson | Dec 10, 2012 4:08:14 AM

as ive emphasized in the past, before any change can be under way, there needs to be a foundation for the party to work from which shows a willingness to "ratify" any relationship between the parties. the current state as it stands now is further proof that the relationship that existed, even a few days ago, was inherently a farce. the committee of law profs probably went to great lengths to substantiate this lie and make it sincere in the best of its capacity; knowing that they are dealing with a seemingly vulnerable adversary. the willingness of the union to withdraw so immediately when it had previously gone to great lengths to come off sincere undermines all of their efforts. this raises a major red flag for the other parties the profs are negotiating with because it reveals the extent of which the group is willing to fake making this transaction work. i sympathize with the opponents of the profs because they were screwed over in the past even before the scandal occurred. in fact, a breach occurred well before results came in, which is significant because it reveals the actions on the part of the prof group was not in response to the actual work of their adversaries. i think it is more probable than not that this argument would hold in a court of law, and undermines any argument that actions by the prof union was not premeditated and a result of the actions of individual actors if the door in such agreement were ever opened. in other words, BGN&A and confidentiality was a complete farse before proof of the scandal unfolded, which strongly suggests that if other side is willing to negotiate, it has the power to do so consistent with the individual actors. furthermore, the prof union is somewhat hypocritical and disparaging when it keeps referring to the individual scandal because they are probably more in violation of the law than anyone else at the bargaining table. if you were in the individual's shoes, would you trust the prof union, or take further steps to show your committment to them after they haven't legally supported any of their commitments at bargaining? would you want to even spend a single second in the same building as an organization who you knew was conspiring against you and felt you were incompetent to change (even though thats whats been advocated?). that is why this next round of bargaining is critical for the future -- not because of present job considerations -- that door closed about 2 months ago out of respect for the privacy of the prof, but because it would represent for the first time something equivalent to an arms length agreement between the parties that trust exists. besides, if departure is what the individual actors want, why not give it to them? at the same time, knowing that the individual actors want out, why would the specific employment opportunity even be relevant??????? it is clear that the relationship between the two parties is tainted, and irreparable at this point just from the way the prof group handled the modest prospect that employment was the forefront of their intentions, so why bother keeping them in the same jdx?? unless they just want to kill them, but that would be bold

Posted by: lerryhenderson | Dec 10, 2012 3:45:24 AM

Hard to picture a more relevant conference theme or joint committee with the ABA will accomplish much. But, the AALS could do a few things immediately:

Stop producing the Directory of Law Teachers.

Even if you can't improve the content of the FAR form, improve its font and layout.

Posted by: prof | Dec 9, 2012 5:26:56 PM

I agree with the direction of Rick Garnett's comments, which I interpret as: less politics and more pedagogy and outreach to the rest of the legal profession. Both the AALS and ABA have to think of ways to get ahead of the curve. Look at what is happening on the state bars (NY and probably CA) taking the initiative on imposing what amount to new graduation requirements for national law schools. The ABA Standards revision has taken so long that it is interfering with the ability of law schools to plan.

Posted by: Steve Griffin | Dec 9, 2012 4:25:39 PM

The best thing you could do would be to start the process of disbanding the AALS.

Posted by: Steve Bainbridge | Dec 9, 2012 3:31:39 PM

Thanks for soliciting comments, Dan. I sympathize with many of the comments above, but it seems unlikely that the AALS is institutionally well-positioned to achieve some of these things on its own. But it would certainly be reasonable for the AALS to convene a joint task force with the ABA to discuss "law school crisis" issues. I also, albeit from a position of relatively limited information, share James's impression that the AALS is not as cost-effective as it should be, and that the FAR form could be improved.

As I've also noted before, strictly on the curricular level and the debate about "practice readiness" etc., it seems to me that many individual schools have undertaken interesting reforms and programs (Northwestern among them), but that there are few if any places where information about these programs is collected in one place and disseminated to law professors, let alone assessed for effectiveness or cost. I do think the AALS would be in a fair position to collect and publicize information of this sort, both so that different schools can have a better idea of the options available to them and to encourage rankers such as US News to consider such programs when deciding on rankings metrics. Again, I appreciate that there are other issues besides curricular ones, and indeed that many consider curricular or "practice-readiness" issues decidedly secondary.

With respect to the annual conference, I've already noted publicly a couple of times that I think there is certainly room for more organized discussions of issues concerning both legal education and the legal economy, and that the last two years' conferences (including this one), despite some nods or lip service in that direction, haven't done an adequate job. A further issue there is that the law school faculty world, although surely it is better informed about these issues now than a few years ago, still seems split between those who are very, very aware of these issues, whether I share their views or not, and those who are ignorant of them or indifferent to them. I'm not sure how you can best reach that silent group, but I hope you will try.

I respectfully disagree with James about the advisability of requiring all sections to plan programs that match with a single theme. But I'm sure many professors who attend the conferences would like stronger substantive programs. I would use your bully pulpit to discourage too much of the tendency to use the same few panelists year after year. And I would encourage you to encourage two somewhat different types of panelists to be used more: practitioners, and experts from outside the law school.

Finally, and more selfishly and out of line with the cost-containment concern: bring back the decent shoulder-bag! The last few lasted for all of a couple of weeks and were badly shaped, whereas I still use one of my older shoulder bags for class, and thus help publicize the AALS. I grant that this is a petty concern!

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | Dec 9, 2012 11:48:55 AM

Dan -- first, congrats (I think!). It seems to me that a "first step" might be to start with small, even baby, steps. After all, the crisis / challenge facing legal education, the legal profession, and law students is a complicated one: It cannot be fixed by any one actor or organization, or by attacking any particular variable. That said, it does seem to me that the AALS "expresses" what it describes as the legal academy's "values" often and in many (sometimes heavy-handed, in my view) ways, and it might be a good start for the AALS to -- officially -- explore, express, and endorse thoughtful analyses of and proposals regarding the crisis / challenge -- that is, regarding the structure and content of legal education -- and to move away from what strike me as more ideological stances and interventions.

Posted by: Rick Garnett | Dec 9, 2012 9:35:20 AM

The AALS needs to stop overemphasizing racial, ethnic, and gender diversity in faculty hiring and focus on the faculty candidate's other merits. A friend of mine copied me on the following email that she sent to someone else. I won't name the university:

"Our university has offered the Law School money for an extra faculty slot, but only if the appointee is black. I know we're not alone in this, but it seems even more obviously illegal than arrangements that give preferences to minorities."

Two hours letter, I received a form rejection from that law school. Law schools should not be violating the law, and our professional organizations should stop pressuring them to do so. It's a terrible example to set for law students.

Posted by: AnonFacultyCandidate | Dec 9, 2012 7:38:32 AM

Eliminate tenure and allow schools to "cut the fat," i.e., those professors who have "checked out" and are "mailing it in" either with respect to teaching or scholarship. This in turn may reduce costs and ensure students aren't paying for sub-optimal instruction that cannot be merely attributed to a junior person learning the subject. Tenure is seen as a reward for generally six years of being a good academic citizen. My response is this: what solace is it to a student in the professor's 7th or 8th year of teaching, when the professor may have checked out, that the professor was good for the prior six years? Moreover, if a professors needs job security in order to speak his or her mind on the law and society, he or she is in the wrong business. Professors, by nature, should be interested in exploring ideas carefully and seriously.

Posted by: Prof | Dec 8, 2012 8:44:45 PM

Dickering about AALS themes is less than emblematic of "Kicking A** and Taking Names," no?

I mean, I hate manufactured themes that artificially suggest differentiation as much as the next person, but the solution isn't to come up with cooler names.

And picking a polarizing theme is not exactly redemptive. How would you feel if you were a student in the throes of a debt crisis, and you learned that the academy's solution was to hold a big meeting to argue about the problem at the cost of adding a couple of hundred thousand dollars in overhead? Maybe you'd be okay with it . . . if you didn't attend that meeting and witness the discussions. Maybe I'm cynical, but I tend to doubt that we'd be watching Athens reborn via attenuated but arguably thematic contributions from the Law and Interpretation section.

Posted by: Jaded JD | Dec 8, 2012 8:19:54 PM

If the next AALS theme really were "Kicking A** and Taking Names," I'd be much more likely to attend.

More seriously, to the extent that the theme is something actually under your control during your limited time at the hem -- as opposed to the systemic issues that any one-year President will have trouble fixing during his or her term -- be bold. A theme general enough to fit with any section's interests is going to have no substantive content. Don't play it safe. Pick a theme that will be polarizing, that will get people arguing. Then tell the sections and other groups planning workshops, etc. that unless their topics relate to the theme, there's no room for them at the meeting. And as substantive theme, how about "Failing Law Professors? Legal Education and the Student Debt Crisis"?

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 8, 2012 6:42:11 PM

I want to echo JG's last comment on meeting theme. I should say that my colleagues have already rejected my first proposal for my presidential meeting theme, this proposal coming in two parts: "Kicking a** and taking names." :)
Back to the drawing board I guess . . .

Posted by: dan rodriguez | Dec 8, 2012 6:05:50 PM

Other AALS programs that are inexcusably wasteful include the Directory of Law Teachers, the FAR, and the Mid-Year programs. Each of them has a sticker price that substantially exceeds any reasonable cost of providing the associated services. The content of the Mid-Year programs is generally good, but the Directory and FAR have gone through massive technological struggles to produce content in less-than-fully usable formats. As President, I hope you take a hard look at how the organization manages to do so little with so much.

The flood of paper mailings AALS sends out to professors is one part of the problem. So is the remarkable degree of red tape associated with AALS sections. And dare I ask what difference -- for law schools or for the world -- an AALS Annual Meeting theme has ever made? (The 2013 theme, "Global Engagement and the Legal Academy," is essentially identical to the 2003 theme, "Legal Education Engages the World." Go figure.)

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 8, 2012 5:56:12 PM

Here are the problems that need to be cured:

1. Law school costs too much.
2. The professorship is way too socialist.
3. Profs are too coddled.
4. Courses are not responsive to student needs.
5. Nobody there appreciates STEM ability.

The WHOLE solution, as far as I am concerned, would be to force profs to offer classes for bidding on eBay and to allow students to sit for the bar when they feel they are ready. Legal education would then be cheap and fully accessible and I wouldn't have to take classes from tenured, arrogant, socialist profs unschooled in STEM, like my least favored prof, the papist breeder Johannson; unfortunately, I had to endure Property under him.

My favorite prof was the rare non-socialist Lino Graglia; look how UT Austin pilloried him!

We need way more choice in profs and curriculum, not to mention fellow students. I spent three years surrounded by English, History, Psychology majors and god-knows what other types of wishy washy fellow students. There were only 5 of us out of 135 with any sophistication in STEM. If law school at UT Austin hadn't been virtually free, I couldn't have justified enduring it.

Posted by: Jimbino | Dec 8, 2012 5:31:34 PM

I applaud your willingness to pose this question. Seconding James Grimmelman, start by cutting costs. I would guess that the AALS annual conference costs as much as $1000 per faculty attendee in terms of registration and hotel costs alone, and $1500 or more once meals and transportation are included. I don't think it's enough to exhort AALS leadership just to mind costs, because the incentives for leadership and schools are just too badly askew. Nor is there any practical way for AALS to insist that faculty attendees pay their own way, which would impose a more serious test of the value proposition and a cost cap (though in theory it could determine what the unsubsidized market price would be and then cap registration costs at that level).

Still, the AALS could do other things to put considerable pressure on costs. First, hold the conference only once per law school class (presently three years). (Think of all the money and planning energies saved!) Second, require sign-in at all sessions, then provide to each school the list of sessions attended by each of their faculty members. Third, publish after the fact, to the extent consistent with privacy law, the names of those attending -- showing their commitment to keeping abreast of changes in legal education, and opening the value question up to general evaluation. Fourth, require that for each faculty member registered, one or more students from the same school must be registered.

I've got a million of 'em, each more likely to be adopted than the last!

Posted by: Jaded JD | Dec 8, 2012 5:02:22 PM

Number 1 priority should be lowering the cost of law school.
Best way to do that is to start giving law schools the option to offer 2-year JDs.

Posted by: I think | Dec 8, 2012 12:53:13 PM

Enforce the highest possible standards for clarity and completeness in the reporting of employment outcomes for graduates.

For some examples of what that should include, I refer you to http://www.lawschooltransparency.com/reform/projects/Transparency-Index/

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Dec 8, 2012 12:42:23 PM

But, he's right about 4. For most students, the library is a place to study. Between e-resources and interlibrary loan, there's little need for many volumes on site. But, libraries are small potatoes.

Probably the most important thing that AALS can do is improve the entry-level hiring process.

1. The FAR form is hard to read and emphasizes the wrong things. The list of teaching interests is bizarre in what it includes and doesn't.

2. Right now, job candidates with no interviews subsidize those with interviews. Fairness dictates a la carte pricing: pay for the FAR form and then pay again for the meat market.

3. Move the hiring process later. Between December and next September, people have babies, retire, take lateral offers, spouses get jobs or lose them. Schools find out they need someone to teach X. For new hires, the right location is right no longer. If entry-level hiring moved to the spring, schools would have a better idea of what they need and candidates would have a better idea of which location worked for them. Are some schools going to cheat? Of course, Minnesota will always try, but don't assume the process will unravel.

One last thing, many of the AALS conferences are only open to tenure-track faculty. People trying to get into teaching need the exposure most. Limiting conferences to insiders makes AALS look like a cartel.

Posted by: Hate to Agree with Jimbino on Anything | Dec 8, 2012 12:40:17 PM

The AALS is an astonishingly bureaucratic organization, even by the standards of academe. It does little of substance, and what it does do, it does at ridiculous cost. The best thing that AALS can do for legal education is find ways to bring down the cost of legal education by reducing the effective tax that AALS imposes on law schools.

Posted by: James Grimmelmann | Dec 8, 2012 12:34:07 PM

The obvious ways to improve legal education and the profession generally are:

1. Eliminate bar certification altogether as Milton Friedman advocated, or
2. Permit a person to take the bar after first year law.
3. Put more classes online that lead directly to certification.
4. Get rid of expensive libraries. It's nuts for law schools to compete for the largest library, when all of them could be combined and made available to the entire world in one swell foop.
5. Get rid of tenure and other impediments to attracting and keeping good profs.
6. Have profs offer their courses on eBay and let students bid for seats with their tuition dollars, as has historically been the European custom. A little competition would improve all schooling immensely.

Posted by: Jimbino | Dec 8, 2012 12:16:47 PM

George and shq beat me to it.

Posted by: John Steele | Dec 8, 2012 12:13:29 PM

I would start by changing the question to "What can we do as law professors to advance the cause of the legal profession?"

Posted by: shg | Dec 8, 2012 12:10:18 PM

I would start by changing the question to "What can we do as law professors to advance the cause of legal education?" - GWC

Posted by: George Conk | Dec 8, 2012 11:47:14 AM

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