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Thursday, December 01, 2016

The  Benefits of Closer Connections Among Law School  Adjuncts and Full Time Law Faculty

Surveys have confirmed the perception that adjuncts play a major and important role in U.S. legal education. The most recent surveys which were conducted in 2007 and 2010 have  demonstrated the extensive use of adjuncts at most U.S. law schools. They have also pointed out  the courses most often taught by full-time faculty members and the courses that are taught by adjuncts, most of whom are  judges and lawyers with other full time jobs. It is past time for an updated comprehensive survey to determine whether the  reduction in revenue in the face of continuing pressure for a more “practical;” curriculum have resulted in any change in the use of adjuncts so that any such changes can be thoughtfully evaluated.

The 2011 Best Practices Report of the  Committee on Adjunct Faculty of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar stated:

“In addition to the teaching contributions of adjunct faculty, however, there exists another and slightly different kind of contribution that adjuncts may make.  There is a largely untapped potential for collaboration where full-time faculty and adjunct faculty could work together in ways that truly enhance the students’ experience while at the same time maximizing the contributions that the full-time and adjunct faculty may make to the study and improvement of the law. “

If a school creates a community among full time-faculty and adjunct faculty and successfully encourages meaningful interaction among them, the full-time faculty and the adjuncts will both benefit and and the law students will be the major beneficiaries. This interaction can also dilute any resentment, lack of respect and disrespect that may exist from the full-time faculty to the adjuncts or from the adjuncts to the full-time faculty.

There are many specific examples of how that might be done.  Full time faculty members regularly make presentations of drafts of articles and other types of work to the faculty.  It would be simple enough to invite adjuncts who teach in the subject area of those presentations to participate.  The result would be not only the improvement of the articles, but an interchange across full-time-adjunct lines which might build mutual respect and enhanced understanding.  

Another example is the work of the curriculum committee. Whenever that committee is considering issues in a particular subject matter area it would be an easy matter to invite input from adjuncts who teach in that or related subject matter areas.  Once again the interchange would not only improve the decision making but would also increase the respect in both directions. A third possibility is including the adjuncts in the vetting of new faculty who would be teaching in an area related to that of the adjunct.  

In order to identify the efforts that make the most sense at any particular law school and in order to lay the foundation for a successful effort, first steps might be:

Identify an initial core group of adjuncts who might be willing to spend a few extra hours a month and who have something to contribute to the law school in addition to the specific courses they teach; and develop an small,active and strategic committee including an administrator who works with adjuncts, full time faculty and adjuncts.

Perhaps the current crises in cost of legal education  and in enrollment and revenue provide the opportunity for such innovation. There are lots of other practical opportunities for such collaboration.

Posted by david lander on December 1, 2016 at 01:21 PM | Permalink


So many hasty generalizations. The quality of adjuncts differs. How do we know? Because people differ, experience differs, student evals differ, direct student feedback to professors differs, etc. Some adjuncts are better than others. I've observed it myself, as have many of my colleagues (many do sit in on classes).

Getting back to the original question, our school has started a monthly morning reception where all the adjuncts teaching a certain subject group come and mingle with each other and the FT profs who teach in that group. Feedback so far has been positive (at least so I've heard).

I regularly communicate with our IP adjuncts, ask them for referrals (both for new adjuncts or for potential clients), speak on bar panels with some of them. Some of them are even former students, which is an interesting dynamic. I haven't asked them to look at my scholarship, but some of them have and they periodically comment. But not everyone has time or is interested. I certainly wouldn't require attendance for the pittance we pay.

Posted by: Michael Risch | Dec 5, 2016 11:06:16 AM

This is one of several unexamined adjunct pedagogical questions that needs more attention.I intend do some more thinking and writing about it and the comments on this blog have been helpful for me. so thanks.

Posted by: David Lander | Dec 5, 2016 10:19:41 AM

I'm surprised by the "adjuncts can't teach" comment. My experience was to the contrary. I took three courses taught by adjuncts (Texas civil procedure, Texas appellate procedure, and national security law) and they were as good as the full-time faculty on average and better than a couple of full-time faculty in particular. I stayed away from courses intended to teach skills needed in practice, as I (rightly) thought I could pick those up in practice later. But the adjuncts were not chopped liver.

Posted by: Curmudgeonly Ex-Clerk | Dec 4, 2016 2:41:36 PM

Not a single law school I am affiliated with is interested in furthering collaboration with adjuncts. Personally I believe this is a bad mistake as they do have much too offer and particularly the ones who have big firm experience bring an immeasurable "practical" aspect to the class. But there is a huge amount of internal politics involved and faculty do not want to give up their courses or else they are expendable. ALSO - access to grant funding who wants to allow adjuncts to share the pot? At one school, an adjunct made a pitch to some of my colleagues and the Academic Dean for a course that is extremely important and relevant for today's students and he/she was an expert. The Academic Dean and the faculty who taught in that area were not at all interested. I could not help as this was not in my research area. I suggested to him/her to speak to the Dean, and the response from the Dean was..."we will call you if we are interested". That was 2 years ago. Yes the students lose out but self-interest generated conflicts are nothing new. It is the biggest problem in academia today.

Posted by: Guest | Dec 4, 2016 6:21:57 AM

I love the generalization above that adjuncts "can't teach." So delightfully ivory tower. How many classes taught by adjuncts has that person sat in, I wonder? Because I've been doing this for a decade and I can count on no fingers how many times ANY full time faculty have sat in on my classes. The classes that get near-perfect evaluations. The classes that turn out students who go on to prestige jobs and reach back out to me to say it was my class/the writing sample from my class that helped them get that job. The classes with students who say they didn't really learn to write until they took my class. So please, go ahead and tell me I'm not a good teacher. What broad, unfair generalizations do you think might be lobbed at full-time faculty?

Happy to give some context to what happened in the situation I referenced above. I teach an upper level writing-intensive class. As part of the materials, students were given a draft complaint, motion for summary judgment, order, etc. They had to write an appellate brief in my class. The majority of students in class expressed regret that they had never learned to draft pleadings and trial motions-- they had done a "memo" as their 1L legal writing assignment and then were taking my class as 3Ls and going out into practice having never written much else. Some stated that they had never even SEEN some basic pleadings, let alone had a class where they had worked on drafting them.

I went to the dean and relayed these comments. I offered to draft some simple exercises that could be built into various 1L classes (primarily civil procedure) to start incorporating litigation drafting. I offered to put the exercises together, go in and teach the exercises, grade them (or let them be ungraded)-- whatever the full time faculty wanted. I was, basically, laughed at. I was told that I clearly didn't understand the purposes of CP and that these were skills students were supposed to gain through summer jobs and internships. It was not the job of faculty to teach them litigation drafting.

Meanwhile, from my practical experience-- what GOOD is civil procedure if you don't have any idea how it plays out in an actual case? Civil procedure serves as the guidelines for litigation, at least that's how it works in practice. But I guess the fact that I think that way is why they're such "good teachers" and I'm not. Because they know how to make something like CP totally theoretical so that when students graduate and are expected to draft pleadings, they have no idea what they look like.

Obviously I'm being tongue in cheek here and it's a sore spot-- but I see such a huge divide between adjuncts and full time faculty with one side being so derisive of the other, I have trouble imagining how they'd come together. I also don't understand what's "in it" for adjuncts. We can make you better? Yeah. We know that. It's what we're doing already, for a pittance.

Posted by: An Adjunct Here | Dec 3, 2016 7:08:40 PM

Having taught at five schools over a couple of decades, almost entirely as an adjunct, my sense is that FT profs don’t appreciate or scorn adjuncts nearly as much as they aren’t even aware of them. When I ask fellow adjuncts what the faculty think of them, the most common response is something like “if my evals are fine, the admins and faculty completely ignore me.”

There are good economic reasons for that. Most adjuncts work at a loss compared to the market value of their time but are willing to teach because they like it or because the gig provides professional prestige. The FT profs and admins like it because adjuncts teach courses the faculty either can’t or don’t want to teach and they teach for close to free. It’s a very stable arrangement that has proven itself for a long time. Once or twice I’ve seen pushes to integrate adjuncts but there’s no oomph behind the movements. Why change something that works?

Still, I wonder if there isn’t a second stable equilibrium, at least in theory, at which schools would pay somewhat more to adjuncts and demand significantly more from them. Neither the schools nor the FT want to see money spent that way, so I don’t think it would happen—but it could, I think.

On another point, I don’t think “real world” experience is necessary to be a great teacher in law school. In my field, legal ethics, I know of several profs who do not even have law degrees but who do have deep knowledge of the field and who apparently teach quite well.

Posted by: John Steele | Dec 3, 2016 5:12:51 PM

I tend to agree -- FT faculty with real practice experience can be the best of both worlds but they are a very rare breed. I strongly disagree, however, that classes taught by adjuncts go over students heads, or at least any more than any other class.

Posted by: Anon | Dec 3, 2016 3:06:08 PM

@ No way: Actually, the opposite is more common. Adjuncts' heavy time commitments, the lack of experience in the classroom, and usually highly specialized knowledge mean that classes go way over the students' heads . . . that is, when the class isn't cancelled. There are great adjuncts out there, but from most schools get what they pay for them: little. This is why adjuncts are the first to be cut when law schools try to save money.

On the other hand, professors of the practice - long-term practitioners who transition to academia full-time - can be the best of both worlds.

Posted by: No way, no way | Dec 3, 2016 2:24:28 PM

It is well-understood that often adjuncts are superior to the FT academics both in knowledge and ability to teach. Lets not mince words, faculty do not want to engage more with adjuncts as that might lead to more courses wtaught by them and would render my colleagues less valuable.

Posted by: No way | Dec 3, 2016 2:13:30 PM

An Adjunct Here writes: "The one time I suggested I might have something to add to a full-time faculty member's class I was ACTIVELY RIDICULED. "

Can you tell us any more about what happened?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 2, 2016 11:39:22 PM

It is now well-recognized that students are increasingly demanding that courses and faculty have some connection to practice. These sorts of moves therefore are steps in the right direction. To the extent faculty don't have substantial practical experience, adjuncts can help faculty bridge the gap. Also, to the "adjunct here" poster above, your experience seems really unpleasant. It's my sense that faculty (and administration) have a much greater appreciation for practice and practioners than before, so hopefully your situation will change sooner rather than later.

Posted by: anon | Dec 2, 2016 9:10:54 PM

I agree. It would be interesting to know if any law schools are trying such modest steps.

Posted by: David Lander | Dec 2, 2016 12:58:08 PM

One simple starting point might be to help each side know more about the other. For example, the law school could send the full-time faculty a list of the adjunct profs teaching that semester, together wth a list of the courses they are teaching, teaching times, and contact info. Or better yet, send the profs who teach in a particular area a list of the adjuncts teaching courses in that area together with their contact info and teaching times. It's a modest step, but it's a start.

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Dec 2, 2016 12:23:32 PM

I understand your concern and attitude but believe that a "pilot project" of this type at a few law schools will build mutual respect across the high fence. I am wondering if any schools are trying this or have tried it. Clearly it would require a push and a more open environment.

Posted by: David Lander | Dec 2, 2016 11:53:29 AM

We have"day jobs," you pay us a pittance, we get no respect... and now you think we're going to give MORE to the law school community that largely pretends we don't exist and just uses us to lighten the teaching load for people who arguably teach professionally?!

You want US to help YOUR scholarship? Are you going to like it when we tell you that much of it is of no use to those who actually practice?

Are you going to have these sessions after business hours, around our schedules? Because we're actually practicing law all day and then teaching to keep your school going some nights too.

The one time I suggested I might have something to add to a full-time faculty member's class I was ACTIVELY RIDICULED. I'd love to see this in theory but in practice it seems highly unrealistic (at least where I teach).

Posted by: An Adjunct Here | Dec 1, 2016 8:28:11 PM

Is it contemplated that this extra work will come with extra pay? And maybe even some benefits or job security?

Posted by: brad | Dec 1, 2016 3:12:07 PM

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