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March 13, 2007

What kind of career do you want your students to have?

This post is less about law school "innovation" and more about the roots of law school, the goals and purpose that readers of this blog serve. (As you know, I'm not a law school professor or instructor).

I'm genuinely curious what you wish for your students -- what kinds of careers you imagine them having. A running critique of most of academia is that some professors strive to replicate themselves by creating more professors rather than practitioners. (In Ph.D. programs, this goal is the explicit norm, but not in J.D. programs -- at least in theory). A lot of this criticism can be summed up with the insult, "Those who can't, teach."

I don't think that criticism is fair. But if the Carnegie researchers are correct -- that law schools largely fail to integrate moral/ethical dimension of legal practice into the curriculum -- then are students left unmoored in their career decision-making? And do professors bear some responsibility for giving them some moral anchorage? A recent letter to the Harvard Law School Record seems to think so:

I applied to Harvard Law School because it was supposed to prepare me to be a great advocate for people in my community. Instead, I found it difficult to speak up in classroom discussions that discouraged the acknowledgment that class, race, gender and political ideology were intrinsically tied to the creation and execution of the laws we studied.

Further, the career options presented by OPIA [Office of Public Interest Advising] and OCS [Office of Career Services] did not fit my vision of the lawyer I imagined I would be. At some point I hung up my idealism and agreed to take the easier path. When I graduated from HLS in 1999, I left to be a corporate attorney. That diploma and that starting salary meant that by all standards I had made it! The problem was that I was a success in everyone's eyes except my own.

-- An Open Letter to HLS Students by Luz E. Herrera

The author -- who did ultimately become a solo practitioner in Compton -- cites statistics that show how big firms are gobbling up a larger percentage of the practicing attorneys each year. Given that the supply of attorneys is fairly static, and that technology has yet to pay off in leveraging our current attorney base more effectively (more on this later), we're talking about a zero-sum game in which middle- and low-income Americans are getting less and less access to legal services every year.

You need not agree with Ms. Herrera's (and frankly, my) opinion that this eroding of services for average and poor Americans is a crisis to see the bigger point -- that law schools have a big effect on the careers that their alumni undertake. What do you see as your role in shaping that future? What is your school's? Is it something you talk about frequently in faculty meetings and other settings?

- Gene Koo

March 13, 2007 in Serving students | Permalink

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Comments

I can't help but chuckle at the irony of the first quoted paragraph:

"I found it difficult to speak up in classroom discussions that discouraged the acknowledgment that class, race, gender and political ideology were intrinsically tied to the creation and execution of the laws we studied."

The author simultaneously (1) decries her inability to engage in a discussion, while (2) apparently demanding an end to the dispute (i.e., "acknowledg[ment]") that certain factors are "intrinsically tied to the creation and execution of the laws we studied" (whatever that means).

In short: Shut up, she explained.

Posted by: Adam | Mar 14, 2007 12:17:49 PM

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