July 25, 2012

The National Jurist produces list of "most innovative law school"

Via e-mail, I received word of this new annoucement from The National Jurist:

Law schools are pushing the boundaries of the traditional law school model and experimenting at a level that legal education has not seen for several years, a new story reveals.

The National Jurist invited every law school in the U.S. to submit a nomination for how it is innovating its curriculum. More than 40 schools responded, showing that schools are experimenting with boot camps, mentoring programs, technology and programs that mirror the medical school model.

“We were surprised and impressed by the level of innovation today,” said Jack Crittenden, Editor In Chief of The National Jurist. “Legal educators are no longer just talking about change — they are taking the first steps to make it happen.”...

The National Jurist will publish all of the honorees in the Back to School issue of preLaw magazine, due out in late August.  It will also publish details about each school on its website in August.  Here is the list in alphabetical order:

  • Elon University School of Law
  • Hamline University School of Law
  • Indiana University Maurer School of Law
  • Loyola Law School Los Angeles
  • New York Law School
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Pennsylvania State University The Dickinson School of Law
  • Phoenix School of Law
  • Stanford Law School
  • Southwestern Law School
  • Syracuse University College of Law
  • Thomas Jefferson School of Law
  • Tulane University Law School
  • University of Arkansas at Little Rock
  • University of Denver Sturm College of Law
  • University of District of Columbia
  • University of Hawai’i
  • University of Illinois College of Law
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Utah S.J. Quinney College of Law

In part because necessity is the mother of invention, I am not surprised to see on this list a number of schools that are surely struggling in the new tighter market for law jobs and law students. That said, I am looking forward to seeing the forthcoming full National Jurist article discussing just what makes these 20 schools especially innovative.

Posted by DAB

July 25, 2012 in Deans and innovations, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

July 12, 2012

"Yale launches Ph.D. in Law to train aspiring professors"

The title of this post is the headline of this new article in The National Law Journal reporting on the (innovative?) new approach to be tried by Yale Law School to train the next generation of law professors. Here are the basic details:

Interested in becoming a law professor? Yale Law School has a program for you.

The school plans what administrators said will be the first Ph.D. in Law.  The program is designed for students holding a J.D. from a U.S. law school who want to teach law. Students will spend three years learning how to produce scholarly research and writing; will take teaching classes; and will teach courses themselves.

Yale already produces a disproportionately high percentage of law professors in the United States, given its relatively small size — about 10 percent claim a J.D. from the New Haven, Conn., institution.

But legal academia has become a tougher nut to crack in recent years, said Yale Law Dean Robert Post, particularly because law schools want professors with a deeper portfolio of academic writing and research.  A few years of practice experience is no longer enough to get a foot in the door at many schools, and job candidates with Ph.D.s are in demand, he said....

Law graduates with an interest in teaching often pursue Ph.D.s in areas such as philosophy, political science, history or economics, but "it's a little hard to get them back into legal scholarship," Post said.  Some law schools offer postgraduation fellowships that provide time to research and write, but they don't offer much instruction in producing academic research.

Yale's program will offer training in research and writing without losing students to other academic disciplines, Post said.  The law school is still ironing out the details, but students will have to write a dissertation, sit for qualifying exams, take classes on teaching and teach two courses.

Yale received funding for the program from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and alumna Meridee Moore, who founded Watershed Asset Management LLC. Students won't have to pay tuition and will receive a cost-of living stipend, Post said.  The program will start accepting applications this fall and will open during fall 2013.  Post said he expects to accept about five students per year, eventually working up to a total enrollment of 15.

"I think this offers a very exciting combination of law school and graduate school," Post said.  "We very much hope it will fill a need."

I share Dean Post's view that this new Yale Ph.D. program wll be an "exciting combination of law school and graduate school," and I think the program will fill a gap in existing law school programming.  That said, I do not think it is quite right to suggest this program will fill a "need" as suggested by Dean Post:  in my view, the law school universe right now does not really need more or even more thoroughly trained Ph.D. law professors. 

Though I am disinclined to assert that there are already too many law professors, I am eager to assert that there are already too many law professors who have spent relatively too much time in school and relatively too little time in legal practice.

July 12, 2012 in Deans and innovations, Teaching -- pedagogy, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

May 17, 2012

Should law schools help "incubate" solo practicioners?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by this article in the National Law Journal, which is headlined "The next solo incubator will be in San Diego."  Here are excerpts:

Recent graduates of Thomas Jefferson School of Law who want to launch solo practices will soon have some extra support from their alma mater.  The school is the latest to start a solo incubator — a post-graduation program intended to provide affordable office space and mentoring from law faculty and alumni to help graduates gain experience and learn how to run their own practices.

The City University of New York School of Law was the first to create such a program in 2007, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and Pace Law School have followed.

"We don't take part in their law offices, but we'll provide mentorship and support," said Thomas Jefferson professor Luz Herrera, who is spearheading the initiative. "We'll also have a listserve that will put them in contact with more experienced attorneys."

The school will start taking applications for the program in July, and expects to have between six and eight participants initially.  They will spend between 12 and 18 months in the incubator.  Assisting them will be MBA students at San Diego State University, who will research the solo practitioner market in the city to help identify unmet legal needs and suggest prices for their services, Herrera said....

Fred Rooney, who developed CUNY's solo incubator, traveled to San Diego to help Herrera and other Thomas Jefferson faculty to help develop to the program.  He said he has been fielding requests from many law schools for information and ideas.  "As more solo incubators are conceptualized by law schools, each one is going to be unique," Rooney said. "I think the Thomas Jefferson model is going to emphasize cross-border matters," given that San Diego's close proximity to the Mexican border.

Thomas Jefferson will start a solo practice concentration within its curriculum next fall to prepare students who want to go that route. The school has asked local bar associations and practicing attorneys to submit proposals for what that curriculum should cover, Herrera said. The preliminary plan calls for a series of practicing attorneys to lecture on topics ranging from how to market yourself to how to maintain good relationships with opposing counsel.

I have long feared that too much of the professional and professionalism training that I try to give to my students in both doctrinal and skills courses unduly reflect only the large-national-firm "BigLaw" realities I experienced in my years in practice.  Thus, I very much like the idea of law school classes and related programming that is focused around a different model/structure for legal practice.

That said, I have always wonder how effective and successful  a true "solo" practitioner can be over time without eventually getting significant help from other lawyers and/or professional staff.  For that reason, I am not sure I like the idea of encouraging young lawyers to be thinking about a "solo" practice rather than a "small" practice.  Put differently, before embarking on a sustained effort to "incubate" solo practioners, I think a law school might be best served by exploring what kinds of small firm structures appear to be most successful in their region -- as judged by the client market and in the view of lawyers working therein -- and then developing programming to help junior lawyers join or develop these kinds of small-firm structures.  Such a program might not only serve the students, but also local small firms (which, I suspect, have little time/ability to recruit and train junior lawyers, even if/when they have the need for them as their legal business increases).

Posted by DAB

May 17, 2012 in Employment, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

May 09, 2012

Wash. U. innovates with online law masters programs

I am intrigued to see this new article from the New York Times concerning showing the details of a real law school innovation coming from the Show Me State.   The article it headlined "Law School Plans to Offer Web Courses for Master’s," and here are excerpts:

The law school of Washington University announced Tuesday that it would offer, entirely online, a master’s degree in United States law intended for lawyers practicing overseas, in partnership with 2tor, an education technology company.

Legal education has been slow to move to online classes, and the new master’s program is perhaps the earliest partnership between a top-tier law school and a commercial enterprise.

“We don’t know where the students are going to come from exactly, but we believe there is demand abroad for an online program with the same quality that we deliver in St. Louis, accessible to people who can’t uproot their lives to come to the United States,” said Kent D. Syverud, the dean of the law school, which currently offers students on campus a Master of Law degree, or LL.M., in United States law for foreign lawyers. “It’s not designed to prepare students for the bar exam.”

Nonetheless, graduates of the new program, which will include live discussions via webcam and self-paced online materials, would probably be eligible to take the California bar exam.

Washington University will share the revenues from the $48,000 program — the same tuition paid by students at the St. Louis campus — with 2tor, which will provide marketing, the Web platform and technical support, including a staff member to monitor each live class and deal with any technical problems that arise.

2tor, a four-year-old company based in Maryland, has partnerships in place with the University of Southern California, Georgetown and the University of North Carolina for online graduate degree programs in education, business, public administration and nursing....

A growing number of law schools offer online master’s degrees in specialized areas of law, like taxation, health care, estate planning, the environment or business transactions. Florida Coastal School of Law, a commercial school, offers a master’s in United States law, created, like the Washington University program, for international lawyers.

New York University Law School’s online Executive LL.M in Tax program enrolls more than 100 students, mostly from the United States, with a smattering from other countries. “Online students can see videos of all the brick-and-mortar classes,” said Joshua D. Blank, faculty director of the graduate tax program, which has been available online since 2008. “We use the same technology Netflix uses to watch movies online. Now that there’s the technology to do this, I think there’s a lot of room for these programs to grow.”...

Classes will be kept small and, Mr. Syverud said, will re-create the discussion between students and professors that characterizes most in-person legal education. Mr. Syverud said he hoped to enroll 20 students in the first group, starting in January, and have four groups a year, totaling more than 100 students.

Posted by DAB

May 9, 2012 in Deans and innovations, Technology -- in the classroom, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

March 19, 2012

Four provocative suggestions for law school reform from Brian Leiter

I am not sure what prompted this new post at Brian Leiter's Law School Reports, titled "Four Changes to the Status Quo in Legal Education That Might Be Worth Something," but I think it is a post that is surely worth reading.  Here are highlights of Leiter's proposals:

1.  Higher education in America includes research universities and teaching colleges (the latter placing less emphasis on research); law schools need the same division of labor, so that we have some law schools that are Harvard and Chicago, and some law schools that are Oberlin and Reed.  How to bring it about is the really hard part, but changes to ABA accreditation rules could surely help....

2.  Judge Posner suggested some time ago that law school be shortened to two years, with a third year optional depending on a student's career goals. Those who want to be tax lawyers could do what is, in effect, the LLM in tax in the third year; those who want to be legal scholars could devote the third year either to cultivating scholarly skills or teaching skills, depending on their academic goals (per #1); those who haven't secured permanent employment after two years could use the third (at some appropriately reduced cost) in externships designed to enhance marketability, with some supervision from academic or clinical faculty; and so on....

3.  Cut the number of law reviews by 75%, and turn the remaining ones over to faculty supervision, with students still working on them, but no longer vested with editorial control....

4.  Finally, and no doubt most controversially, law schools need real tenure standards and real post-tenure review. Real tenure standards means law schools should deny tenure two or three times as often as they presently do, and on the basis of a genuine qualitative review of scholarship.  Post-tenure review -- say, once every ten years -- should operate within the current tenure framework, which means termination only for good cause....

Thoughts on this list?  Other suggestions or modifications of justified law school reforms?

Posted by DAB

March 19, 2012 in Law Reviews, Law School Management, The mission of law schools, The tenure process | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 16, 2012

"While legal academia dithers over reform, the profession may be passing them by"

The title of this post is the sub-heading of this new piece in The National Law Journal, which carries the main headline "What is law school for, anyway?". The piece is a must-read for all would-be law school innovators, and here are excerpts:

The state of the profession has not traditionally been a focus of law professors, said George Washington University Law School professor Thomas Morgan, author of the book The Vanishing American Lawyer.  That remained true until about one year ago, when more people within the academy started taking note of the rumblings within the profession, he said. "We need to try and bridge what is a mutual set of problems," Morgan said.

Still, there remains a gap between the magnitude of change advocated by some within the profession and the modest innovations law schools are pursuing.  Those innovations include a wider array of clinics, harnessing technology in simulations and student projects, and teaching transactional lawyering skills.

"I think they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of consulting firm Legal Executive Leadership and former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel.  "The discussion seems to be, 'Let's add a Thursday evening extra-credit course on the legal profession that meets for a couple of hours.' That's just tweaking around the edges."

Instead, Hackett suggested a re-engineering of law curricula to include an initial phase of core courses followed by a year of executive education-style classes covering topics including business skills, legal technology and behavioral management.  The final phase would involve clinics or externships in law firms, legal departments, government agencies or nonprofit organizations.  These could replace the traditional law firm summer associateships and would be more substantive, she said.

Missing in the conversation was any focus on what skills corporate clients actually want in their lawyers, Hackett said, such as the ability to solve problems and understand financial statements.  "I truly think there are a significant number of people in legal education who think that what a client wants is irrelevant," she said.  "They just want to teach the law."

Others warned that framing the discussion solely in terms of what large law firms and corporate clients want ignores that the vast majority of law school graduates don't work in so-called Big Law, but rather in small firms, solo practice, government or nonprofits — or even as nonlawyers.  Identifying exactly what skills and knowledge students should take away from law school is more complicated than critics suggest, said University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue and Northeastern University School of Law Dean Emily Spieler.

Posted by DAB

January 16, 2012 in Deans and innovations, Legal profession realities and developments, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

November 17, 2011

"Professor's plea: Say no to 'law school porn'"

The title of this post is the headline of this new piece appearing in The National Law Journal. Here are excerpts:

It's that time of year when law school faculties are inundated with so-called "law school porn" — slick mailings extolling the virtues of individual law schools meant to sway voting in the U.S. News & World Report's reputation survey, now underway.

Some legal educators believe the annual barrage of mail has gotten out of control, and proves that rankings are driving administrative decisions.  They say it's time to stop paying for glossy brochures and invest that money in students.

"Some of the stuff I get is gorgeous," said University of New Hampshire law professor Sarah Redfield. "It's almost a book. Some people are spending a bunch of money on this."

A study released in 2009 that was partially funded by the Law School Admission Council, "Fear of Failing: The Effect of U.S. News & World Report Rankings on U.S. Law Schools," reached the same conclusion: that administrators are spending significant amounts of money on brochures and marketing materials in hopes of getting better results on the reputation survey.  The survey is based on voting by legal educators, lawyers and judges, and accounts for 40 percent of a school's ranking score.

In a recent blog post, University of California at Los Angeles School of Law professor Stephen Bainbridge estimated that this material — commonly referred to in legal academic circles as "law school porn" — comprises 67 percent of his work mail. He added that never reads it. He noted that he has started to receive law school promotional materials via e-mail, which he dismissed as spam.

This material does serve a few purposes, according to University of Alabama School of Law professor Paul Horwitz, who defended them on the PrawfsBlawg blog. They can provide useful information about as recent faculty hires, scholarly publications and other innovations, he wrote.

"On the whole, unlike many, I would rather receive these materials than not receive them," Horwitz wrote. "That's true even if, as is generally the case, they're ridiculously fulsome, as long as they're also informative. As long as a school wants to tell me more about who it's hired and what its folks are writing, I'll be happy to read its mailers."...

Redfield brought a thick stack of the material to a law school admissions conference at St. John's University School of Law on Nov. 11.  It represented about one quarter of what she had received this fall, she said. She theatrically dropped the stack into a recycling bin, producing a loud thud, and issued a challenge to the law deans in the audience and to U.S. News Director of Data Research Bob Morse, who sat on a panel with her.  Law schools should do away with law school porn and put the money toward diversity scholarships, Redfield said.

Morse did not sign on to the challenge, nor did his dismiss it out of hand.  Redfield's idea was met with skepticism by St. John's Dean Michael Simons.  He did not specify what the school spends on its mailings, but stipulated that it would not be enough to fund even a half-scholarship. The National Law Journal contacted a number of law schools to ask what they spend; none responded.

November 17, 2011 in Impact on law school decision-making, Rankings, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

October 24, 2011

"Measurement and Its Discontents" ... and US News rankings and law school grades

23gray-img-articleLarge-v2The title of this post starts with the headline of this interesting commentary published in yesterday's New York Times. Though not saying one word about legal education or law schools, I thought many parts of piece (and especially the passages quoted below) were especially interesting and deserved consideration as we head into the (never-ending) law school ranking season:

Why are we still stymied when trying to measure intelligence, schools, welfare and happiness?

The problem is not that we don’t yet have precise enough tools for measuring such things; it’s that there are two wholly different ways of measuring.

In one kind of measuring, we find how big or small a thing is using a scale, beginning point and unit. Something is x feet long, weighs y pounds or takes z seconds. We can call this “ontic” measuring, after the word philosophers apply to existing objects or properties.

But there’s another way of measuring that does not involve placing something alongside a stick or on a scale. This is the kind of measurement that Plato described as “fitting.” This involves less an act than an experience: we sense that things don’t “measure up” to what they could be. This is the kind of measuring that good examples invite. Aristotle, for instance, called the truly moral person a “measure,” because our encounters with such a person show us our shortcomings. We might call this “ontological” measuring, after the word philosophers use to describe how something exists.

The distinction between the two ways of measuring is often overlooked, sometimes with disastrous results. In his book “The Mismeasure of Man,” Stephen Jay Gould recounted the costs, both to society and to human knowledge, of the misguided attempt to measure human intelligence with a single quantity like I.Q. or brain size.  Intelligence is fundamentally misapprehended when seen as an isolatable entity rather than a complex ideal.  So too is teaching ability when measured solely by student test scores.

Confusing the two ways of measuring seems to be a characteristic of modern life.  As the modern world has perfected its ontic measures, our ability to measure ourselves ontologically seems to have diminished. We look away from what we are measuring, and why we are measuring, and fixate on the measuring itself.  We are tempted to seek all meaning in ontic measuring — and it’s no surprise that this ultimately leaves us disappointed and frustrated, drowned in carefully calibrated details....

But how are we supposed to measure how wise or prudent we are in choosing the instruments of measurement and interpreting the findings? Modern literature is full of references to the dehumanizing side of measurement, as exemplified by the character Thomas Gradgrind in Dickens’s “Hard Times,” a dry rational character who is “ready to weigh and measure any parcel of human nature, and tell you exactly what it comes to,” yet loses track of his own life.

How can we keep an eye on the difference between ontic and ontological measurement, and prevent the one from interfering with the other?

One way is to ask ourselves what is missing from our measurements.... In our increasingly quantified world, we have to determine precisely where and how our measurements fail to deliver.

I suspect many who read this blog would be quick to assert that law schools are "fundamentally misapprehended when seen as an isolatable entity [subject to ranking by US News] rather than a complex ideal."  In addition, lots has been said by many US News critics about what is missing from the US News measurements. 

And yet, I cannot help but wonder how much the entire traditional law school model — and especially traditional law school grading systems — also are subject to the problem of mixing "ontic and ontological measurement."  I have long thought and feared that law schools could hardly complain all that much about being peculiarly graded by US News when these institutions continue to graded the potential of future lawyers in a (more?) peculiar way.

Posted by DAB

October 24, 2011 in Grading systems, Rankings, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 13, 2011

"What is ‘Good Legal Writing’ and Why Does it Matter?"

The title of this post is the title of this notable new paper available on SSRN and authored by Professor Mark Osbeck. Here is the abstract:

Law schools face increasing pressure to improve instruction in practice-oriented skills. One of the most important of these skills is legal writing.  The existing literature on legal writing contains various rules and suggestions as to how legal writers can improve their writing skills.  Yet it lacks an adequate theoretical account of the fundamental nature of good legal writing.  As a result, legal writers are left without a conceptual framework to ground the individual rules and suggestions.

This article attempts to fill the theoretical void in the literature by offering a systematic analysis of what it is for a legal document to be well-written.  It starts by examining a foundational conceptual issue, which is what legal writers mean when they say that a legal document is well-written.  It argues that legal readers judge a document to be well-written if the writing helps them make the decisions they need to make in the course of their professional duties.  The article then provides an analysis of the fundamental qualities that enable legal writing to do this, concluding that there are three such qualities: clarity, conciseness, and the ability to appropriately engage the reader.

The article explains why each of these qualities is essential to good legal writing, and it examines the tools good writers use to make their writing clear, concise, and engaging. Lastly, the article examines what it is that distinguishes the very best writing in the field, arguing that great legal writing is not just writing that is especially clear, concise, and engaging, but is instead writing characterized by a separate quality, elegance, that is aesthetic in nature. The article then goes on to explore what it is that makes such writing elegant, and whether it is desirable for legal writers to strive for elegance in their own writing.  The article concludes by briefly considering the pedagogical implications of the analysis discussed in the previous sections.

October 13, 2011 in Serving students, Teaching -- curriculum, Teaching -- pedagogy, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 29, 2011

More, Cheaper Lawyers Needed (A comment on "law school scams")

In the "law school scam" dust-up, there has sometimes been inadequate attention paid to the gaping need for lawyers. The worry is that a proliferation of law schools is producing too many attorneys for the market to bear, leaving many jobless.

In my experience, many ordinary people need lawyers, but many also believe that they cannot afford the lawyers they need. (Yet other ordinary people might well benefit from legal advice, but not recognize their own need.) They suffer injustices silently, even when the law would be on their side.

I am not arguing in favor of a more litigious society--lawyers can often prove useful in putting deals together, benefitting both parties--and ensuring that neither is unduly exploited in the relationship.

Thus, trying to reduce the number of law graduates might itself leave a world with a greater measure of injustice.

One solution is to make law school cheaper--and thus make it possible for lawyers to perhaps lower their fees to make justice more accessible for ordinary people. An alternative is to offer loan forgiveness programs tied to lower-than-usual earnings.

The concept of "low-bono" is a particularly valuable one in this regard--providing affordable representation, yet still allowing lawyers to make a living.

Anupam Chander

September 29, 2011 in The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 10, 2011

Interesting comments from Dean Chemerinsky on his "Ideal Law School for the 21st Century"

I just came across this article on SSRN titled "The Ideal Law School for the 21st Century."  The piece is authored by Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean of the new UC Irvine law school, and it describes his experiences starting the school and his "vision" for UCI Law School.   Here is one passage discussing this vision I found especially blog-worthy:

I felt from the outset that if we simply replicated other law schools we will have failed. There is not a need for another law school like all of the others that already exist.  I felt from the outset that if we simply replicated other law schools we will have failed.  There is not a need for another law school like all of the others that already exist.

My central vision is that I want us to do the best possible job of preparing students for the practice of law at the highest levels of the profession.  I certainly did not graduate from law school ready to practice law. On my first day at my first job after graduating from law school, as a trial attorney at the United States Department of Justice, my supervising lawyer told me that an answer to a particular question could be found in the local rules of the federal district court.  I did not know that there were local rules of the federal district.

Law schools do many things well, including teaching students skills such as the ability to read cases and construct legal arguments, and instructing students on the doctrines in many areas of law. But as many reports have noted, law schools are far less successful in preparing students for the practice of law.There are many reasons for this.  I believe that elite law schools have long eschewed this as a primary objective.  Long ago, they adopted the mantra that they teach students to think like lawyers and leave practical training for after graduation.

Also, the nature of most law school classes, a single instructor in front of a large number of students, does not lend itself to training in skills.  This format of instruction works for conveying information, but skills cannot be learned in this way.  No one would learn how to be a tennis player or a play a musical instrument by exclusively or primarily sitting in a classroom; that is true of any skill.  More subtly, having a single instructor in front of a large number of students limits most evaluations in law school to the grade from a single final examination.  No skills are taught by this experience; there is not even good instruction on the skill of taking law school exams because generally students receive no feedback other than a grade about their performance.

I also fear that the lack of skills training in most law schools is, in part, because most law school faculty are not equipped or oriented towards doing this.  The trend over the last couple of decades, especially in elite schools, is to hire individuals with Ph.D.s, but with no practice experience.  Even those who have practiced before going into teaching generally have done so for only a very short time.  I have observed that very few faculty at elite law schools are actively engaged in the practice of law.  My impression is that this has decreased over the thirty years that I have been an academic, partially because publication and other demands have increased and partially because those being hired are less oriented towards doing so.

Posted by DAB

September 10, 2011 in Teaching -- new courses, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 05, 2011

Identifying the disconnect at the center of the "law school scam"

I still continue to find Inside the Law School Scam an interesting and useful read, and this passage from a recent post comparing law schools to other graduate programs (and some follow-up comments) has helped me to see the heart of the problem that keeps pumping blood though the modern legal education market and has allowed the so-called "law school scam" to develop and continue.  First the passage from ILSS (with my emphasis added), then my explanation:

[It] is an interesting comparison [between law schools and the huge recent expansion of creative writing MFA programs], although in some ways an obviously inapt one.   No one goes into an MFA program intending to make lots of money.  Indeed it's notable that such programs never focus on producing successful genre writers -- i.e., the next Stephen King or John Grisham -- but are rather dedicated almost exclusively to literary fiction. Nor, as far as I know, do MFA programs engage in industry-wide placement stat deception.  (Unlike business schools I know something about these programs because my best friend and his wife are graduates of one).  The biggest distinction between law schools and MFA programs goes to the crucial issue of what economists call psychic income.  Lots of people grow up hoping to write the Great American Novel.  Nobody grows up hoping to one day be Henry Kravis's water carrier on a big M&A deal.  People go to law school, with occasional exceptions, in order to acquire a respectable and well-paid career.  MFA programs cater to peoples' dreams.  Law school is where dreams go to die (Yes I'm generalizing).

Implicit in this passage are three critical contentions/assumptions about the professional thinking of some (many? most?) law students: (1) students go to law school intending to "make lots of money" (not because they dream of practicing law), (2) students expect that "average" performance at an "average" law school will result in a in a "respectable and well-paid career," and (3) students rely on deceptive law school placement stats to justify these decisions and expectations.

I trust some (many? most?) law students — especially those who are most aggrieved and vocal in their complains about the "law school scam" — would endorse these three critical contentions/assumptions and agree they help explain why so many recent graduates are now so upset that they "invested" so much in law school and are now not getting a fair (or any) return on that investment.

Changing perspectives, let me articulate what I suspect to be professional thinking of some (many? most?) law professors: (A) students interested primarily in making money should go to business school (because only those with lawyer dreams will be happy lawyers), (B) students with "average" grades at an "average" law school can find legal jobs, but they will need to "pick up their game" in practice to have a "well-paid" legal career, and (C) students who make serious and savvy efforts to find a legal job will eventually get a legal job.  

Perhaps I am wrong to assert that others would embrace points A, B, and C above, but these realities account for why I personally have not been attuned to "law school scam" complaints until quite recently.  I have long believed that (A) those who went to law school for "the wrong reasons" were unlikely to be happy no matter their professional success, (B) my "average" students could and would find legal work at a living wage, and (C) I can help my students land a legal job if they are serious and savvy in their efforts.  (Indeed, I still hold these views, though I now better understand that (too) many law students may be in it "just for the money" and that the recession has made it much harder for "average" students to find legal work at a living wage.  But while these students may often feel "scammed," they do not often come by my office to ask for job-hunting advice.  I often have "top" students coming for job advice, typically to ask which of two job opportunities they ought to pursue, which I now realize greatly distorts my perspective on the legal job market.)

Not to be overlooked here is the inevitable affinity for law schools to spotlight — in recruiting materials and alumni publications — their most successful and happy graduates and to "hide" their least successful and miserable graduates.  A coming attractions even for a lousy Jack Black movie creates the (deceptive?) impression everyone should spend money on that movie even though only Jack Black fans will be content with the product.  (This preview metaphor justifies greater transparency in law school employment data — i.e., studios should not "scam" Brad Pitt fans into paying to see a Jack Black movie by having the whole preview focus on a tiny Brad Pitt cameo.  But this metaphor might help students appreciate the unique (insulated) perspective of law professors: law profs are essentially Jack Black fans (read, law geeks) who assume the only folks paying for their movie (law school) are fellow Jack Black fans who should still appreciate the experience even though better movies (other professional opportunities) might be at the Cineplex.)

So, even as I grow more aware/attune to the "law school scam" and suffering grads, I still have a hard time viewing law professors as avaricious Ponzi schemers eager to drive students into a lifetime of debt to fund a lavish lifestyle.  Instead, I see a group of well-meaning service-providers (law professors/schools) working earnestly to provide what they consider a valuable non-economic service ("teaching students how to think like a lawyer") to some people who are paying a lot of money (law students) problematically believing they are getting a valuable economic service ("becoming a practicing lawyer").   

To the extent that deceptive placement stats fuel this disconnect between the "law school service" most law professors seek to provide and what some (many? most?) law students actually want and expect, more honest employment data should help considerably.  But if one fears (as I do) that much bigger societal and human psychology forces are in play, more honest employment data is just a first step on a long journey toward a sounder legal education system.

Posted by DAB

September 5, 2011 in Admissions to law school, Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 01, 2011

Imagining a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or "Lawyering for America" to do good while helping new law grads to better

I continue to find thought-provoking the posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as some of the still active student scam-blogs.  And, via these sources, I sense there is growing mainstream discussion of modern legal education costs/benefits within the legal profession, as evidenced by these recent pieces from the Chicago Lawyer and the Connecticut Law Tribune:

As I keep read these blogs and keep hear stories of successful recent law students having no success finding jobs upon graduation, I keep thinking about the very large number of (mostly poor) persons with unmet legal needs in the United States.  As the title of this post suggests, I cannot help but imagine the creation of some mass program for young lawyers to do good work — whether modeled on programs like the Peace Corps or Teach for America — as a means of helping unemployed recent law grads do better by doing good.

As a criminal law professor who specializes in sentencing issues, I am most attuned to the huge number of criminal defendants and ex-offenders — literally millions of Americans — who could benefit greatly from legal advice but who, for financial or others reasons, completely lack access to lawyers or are underserved by (overworked) appointed lawyers.  And I know that lawyers surely could be helping (mostly poor) people struggling with many modern American social challenges — challenges ranging from foreclosure problems, to immigration issues, to family law matters, to health care coverage, to access to education and professional opportunities.

In other words, our society now has a glut of underemployed junior lawyers and a glut of underserved legal needs.  The private legal marketplace — for many reasons, though mostly because the people with the most needs have the least money — seems unable to connect these potential service-providers and these legal needs.  But a well-structured government program or public-policy-group initiative could and should be able to do much better in connecting the potential legal service-providers with all the persons need these services.

I can think of lots of different ways to potentially structure a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or a "Lawyering for America" program — e.g., new grads could have government debts slashed for being in the program a certain number of years, some law schools (or particular classes/clinics) could serve as formal feeders. But I can also think of a lot of potential objections/problems — e.g., might junior lawyers with limited training make some legal problems worse for those now without lawyers?

For now, I just wanted to throw the idea out and see if I can get any reactions (at least from my co-bloggers).

Posted by DAB

September 1, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 29, 2011

Does three years in law school have "value" other than as the means to a professional degree?

The question in the title of this post keeps coming to my mind as I read posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as discussions at various scam-blogs in which the basic theme is that the huge debt law schools require (encourage?) students to incur is a scam because there are no (well-paying) law jobs to be found.  In this recent post, LawProf does an armchair cost/benefit assessment of the potential professional "return" on a law degree investment priced at $300K in terms of actual and opportunity costs.  Missing from the LawProf analysis (as he concedes) is any discussion of the potential "value" of law school (and of being a lawyer) other than as the means to a profession degree that could (but may not) increase one's earning power/potential.

Two subsequent posts by Law Prof with the following comments, in turn, has me really wondering about the "value" of the (expensive) modern three-year law school experience:

That law is an unhappy profession has more to do with factors that law schools can do little about...

The vast majority of law students are in no way interested in paying $150,000 for a three-year continuation of their liberal arts education.  They didn't go to law school because they wanted to go to graduate school to study law.  They went to law school (leaving aside those who are killing time because they have no real idea what they want to do) because they were presented with a barrier to entry to the practice of law that required them to go to school for three more years, period, full stop.

I know some practicing lawyers who would agree that "law is an unhappy profession," but I also know many more practicing lawyers who really like their jobs (and not merely because they make more than a living wage).  But putting aside the important question of whether law really is "an unhappy profession," this premise necessarily casts a completely different light on the "value" and vices of modern legal education.  If law practice really is an "unhappy profession," law schools would seem to justify praise for giving students as a last bit of (expensive) fun (or at least ease) before they have to enter the "unhappy" profession in the real-world.

Moreover, at the same time I seriously question the premise that "law is an unhappy profession," I also question the suggestion that most new law students know where and how they wanted to "practice law" (as opposed to just knowing they want to have a good white-collar job in a certain region).  The real "value" I see in the modern law school program is to provide a (comfortable?) space, significant time and considerable resources to enable bright young people (or second career people) to figure out just what "practicing law" might really mean for them.

Put differently, in addition to believing modern law schools provide a solid education in what I would call "advanced American civics," I also believe modern law schools provide a good opportunity for bright young people (or second career people) to find out about different ways they might make a living from being bright as a lawyer.  To me, this is especially key to the "value" of law school programs lasting three years: most think-like-a-lawyer training can be achieved during the 1L year, but the following two years provide space, time, and resources for students figure out where and how they can find a "happy" place within what for (too) many may be an "unhappy profession."

That all said, students are often paying a lot (roughly $100K if they are paying full tuition) for the opportunity to explore what law practice might mean for them over their final 2 years in law school.  Moreover, if those final two years end up further limiting a student's professional options after graduation (because of bad grades or other factors), I fully understand considerable post-graduation frustration.  

Still, I know from my own experiences that I benefited personally and professionally from having extra time in law school to figure out my own professional goals (though my concerns about the loans accrued were diminished by a decent lawyer job market in the 1990s).  And here I wanted to supplement my co-blogger's recent post on the good things about the 3L year, as well as encourage readers to share their perspectives on the "value" (and/or vices) of a relatively long modern law school program.

Posted by DAB

August 29, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- curriculum, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2011

"Clinical Professors' Professional Responsibility: Preparing Law Students to Embrace Pro Bono"

The title of this post is the title of this new piece by Professor Douglas Colbert, which is now available via SSRN. Here is the abstract:

This article begins by examining the current crisis in the U.S. legal system where approximately three out of four low- and middle-income litigants are denied access to counsel's representation when faced with the loss of essential rights -- a home, child custody, liberty and deportation -- and where most lawyers decline to fulfill their ethical responsibility of pro bono service to those who cannot afford private counsel.  The article traces the evolving ethical standards of a lawyer's professional responsibility that today views every attorney as a public citizen having a special responsibility to the quality of justice.

The author suggests that law professors assume a critical role in law students' decision to embrace or reject its pro bono ethical obligation.  The author focuses on clinical faculty and suggests that its leadership within the academy will be crucial to bridge colleagues' world of theory and doctrine, and to connect with practicing lawyers.  He illustrates clinical faculty's unique opportunity to incorporate the Model Rules of Professional Conduct by referring to the law reform and individual representation work that his clinical students perform.  The author concludes by declaring clinical education presents an ideal opportunity for teaching students to appreciate their professional responsibility to promote access to justice and to embrace pro bono service as an integral element of a lawyer's professional life.

The reality discussed in this piece that "three out of four low- and middle-income litigants lack access to counsel when faced with the loss of essential right" shines an important light on the reality(?) discussed in this recent post that law school are now apparently graduating far too many persons each year given the limited number of new legal jobs that develop each year.  Though there may not be a large number of new legal jobs to sustain all the new lawyers coming into the market, there remains no shortage of serious (and mostly unmet) legal needs in US society.  (I plan to say more on this topic soon, in part because it is this reality that draws me to the view that law students truly interest in practicing law should feel more "scammed" by "career services" departments than by the law school as a whole.)

Posted by DAB

August 25, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Teaching -- pedagogy, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 22, 2011

IAALS launches new program called "Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers"

6059929829_79278f1731 Via e-mail I received this annoucement of note about legal education reform, which gets started this way:

The Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) at the University of Denver today launches a unique, national initiative to change the way law schools educate students. “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers” provides a platform to encourage law schools in the U.S. to showcase innovative teaching to produce more practice-ready lawyers who can better meet the needs of an evolving profession.

Rebecca Love Kourlis is the Executive Director of IAALS and a former Colorado Supreme Court justice. “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers leverages the Carnegie Model of learning,” Kourlis says. “Our project provides support for shared learning, innovation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation. We are very excited to launch this project to encourage new ways to train law students and to measure innovation in the years to come.”

William M. Sullivan is the Director of “Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” He also is the lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Foundation report, Educating Lawyers. “Our goal is to encourage law schools that are already committed to innovation to share what they know in a structured, collaborative place so that other law professors may discuss and develop new teaching techniques,” Sullivan says.

IAALS will manage this initiative, the first of its kind in the country. The initiative is partnering with a growing number of law schools in a consortium committed to innovative teaching.

The website for Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers is interesting and seems to have some useful contents, though I do not yet see just why the website (or this companion blog) ought to become a regular stop for law professors or law students.

Posted by DAB

August 22, 2011 in Deans and innovations, Teaching -- curriculum, Teaching -- pedagogy, Teaching Resources, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 18, 2011

Seeking comments/thoughts in this (safe?) forum on law school scam blogging and ITLSS

Prompted in part by this new blog authored by the anonymous LawProf called "Inside the Law School Scam," and in part by a terrific former student who has been sending me e-mails with his perspective on the legal marketplace and law school realities, I have been giving extra thought of late to the concept of the modern law school as a scam.  This bit of extra thinking, in turn, has led me to read a bit more regularly a few of the sizeable number of law student scam blogs, such as:

I have lots of reactions to all this buzz about law school as a scam, but for now I just wanted to create a space here for discussion of these issues if anyone is interested in having a dialogue in a setting whether the rhetoric and emotion (and stakes?) are not running so high.

Posted by DAB

UPDATE:  The anonymous LawProf running the blog "Inside the Law School Scam" has now been outed as Professor Paul Campos at Colorado.  And Paul Caron has an extraordinary helpful round-up of all the buzzing in this post.

August 18, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

"What if law schools opened their own law firms?"

The title of this post is the headline of this interesting article in The National Law Journal, which begins this way:

Law schools have been pummeled with criticism for not producing practice-ready attorneys, so two law professors have come up with a novel fix: Law schools should operate their own law firms.

The school-owned firms would provide a training ground for recent graduates, but would function much like a normal firm, Brooklyn Law School Professor Bradley Borden and University of Maryland School of Law Professor Robert Rhee wrote in an article entitled, "The Law School Firm."  The piece will appear in a forthcoming issue of the South Carolina Law Review.

Borden and Rhee acknowledged that their idea constitutes a "radical" change from the existing law school model, but they contend that these firms would help recent graduates gain the skills they need to be successful at little expense — and possibly a profit — to law schools.

The firms would be entities distinct from the law schools, and would be professionally managed and generate revenue, although they would be operated as nonprofits. Senior attorneys would be hired to oversee the firms' practice areas, and recent law school graduates would spend fixed periods, perhaps three or six years, at the firm before moving on.

The concept is similar to that of judicial clerkships, Rhee said, in that freshly minted attorneys would spend a fixed amount of time at the firm and face no stigma when they leave.  Being in an actual, functioning law firm would offer a far more immersive learning experience than students could find in the classroom or even in a law school clinic, he said.

The law review article referenced above is now available at this link via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This Article introduces the concept of the law school firm.  The concept calls for law schools to establish affiliated law firms.  The affiliation would provide opportunities for students, faculty, and attorneys to collaborate and share resources to teach, research, write, serve clients, and influence the development of law and policy.  Based loosely on the medical school model, the law school firm will help bridge the gap between law schools and the practice of law.

Posted by DAB

August 18, 2011 in Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2010

"The New Realities of the Legal Academy"

The title of this post is the title of this intriguing new paper by Larry Solum available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

This short paper is the Foreword to Brannon P. Denning, Marcia L. McCormick, and Jeffrey M. Lipshaw, Becoming a Law Professor: A Candidate's Guide, American Bar Association, Forthcoming.

One of the great virtues of Denning, McCormick and Lipshaw’s guide is that it reflects the changing nature and new realities of the legal academy.  Not so many years ago, entry into the elite legal academy was mostly a function of two things -- credentials and connections. The ideal candidate graduated near the top of the class at a top-five law school, held an important editorial position on law review, clerked for a Supreme Court Justice, and practiced for a few years at an elite firm or government agency in New York or Washington.  Credentials like these almost guaranteed a job at a very respectable law school, but the very best jobs went to those with connections -- the few who were held in high esteem by the elite network of very successful legal academics and their friends in the bar and on the bench. The not-so-elite legal academy operated by a similar set of rules.  Regional law schools were populated by a mix of graduates from elite schools and the top graduates of local schools, clerks of respected local judges, and alumni of elite law firms in the neighborhood.  In what we now call the "bad old days," it was very difficult indeed for someone to become a law professor without glowing credentials and the right connections.

But times have changed.  When the Association of American Law Schools created the annual Faculty Recruitment Conference (or FRC) and the associated Faculty Appointments Register (or FAR), the landscape of the legal academy was forever changed.  The change was slow in coming.  For many years, candidates were selected for interviews at the FRC on the basis of the same old credentials and connections, but at some point (many would say the early 1980s), the rules of the game began to change.  In baseball, a similar change is associated with Billy Beane, the manager of the Oakland Athletics, who defied conventional wisdom and built winning teams despite severe financial constraints by relying on statistically reliable predictors of success.  The corresponding insight in the legal academy (developed by hiring committees at several law schools) was that the best predictor of success as a legal scholar was a record of publication.  It turns out that law school grades, law review offices, and clerkships are at best very rough indicators of scholarly success.  But those who successfully publish high quality legal scholarship are likely to continue to do so.

This foreword explores the implications of the new realities of the legal academy for candidates seeking to become law professors.

Posted by DAB

August 2, 2010 in The mission of law schools, The tenure process | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 07, 2010

"Law students at great expense are getting little more than bad sociology"

The title of this post is just one of many provocative comments by law professor Charles Rounds in this potent commentary urging law schools to return to teaching traditional common-law subjects.  Here are more buzz-worthy excerpts that I hope might generate some comments here:

Professional schools need to strike a balance between book-learning and real-world experience.  The American law school now deserves failing grades in both departments.

But it gets worse. In response to complaints from the practicing bar that recent law graduates cannot write well and are otherwise unable to “hit the ground running,” the typical law school has beefed up its in-house clinics and legal writing programs. These politicized bureaucracies behave like labor unions. They are great at self-promotion and forging national networks. They are labor-intensive and thus frightfully expensive.

At best, these programs are pedagogically inefficient; at worst they are pedagogically cancerous. By chipping away at, or crowding out altogether, traditional core courses such as Agency, Trusts, and Equity, these clinical and legal writing programs are more than just a nuisance.  One’s writing improves when one has something rational and coherent to express.  Ten writing courses will not help the law student who is unable to connect the dots because he or she does not know where the dots are.

There is some irony here, as a lawyer is the agent of his or her client.  Law schools are in the business of churning out common law agents but they no longer require that their students take a course in the law of agency? How can that be?

This de-professionalization of the American law school, a phenomenon of profound concern to many in the legal profession, suggests that there is an opening for the for-profit sector.  A bare-bones, back-to-basics for-profit law school staffed by seasoned scholar-practitioners may be the answer. The more boot-camp-like the better, in that the rigor will prepare future lawyers for the work they’ll actually confront in the real world.

It would be a step in the right direction (but only a small one) if law schools were to revive and require the discrete Agency course and relegate to the extra curricular “subjects” such as these: Climate Change Justice (taught at Harvard), Social Justice Lawyering (University of North Carolina), Law and Literature: Murder (University of North Carolina), Social Disparities in Health (Colorado), Wal-Mart (Colorado), Law & Literature: Race and Gender (Duke), Sexual Orientation and the Law (Duke), Ethics in Literature (Yale), Civil Disobedience (Suffolk), and Critical Race Theory (Suffolk).

In any case, we are more likely to see such modest back-to-basics reforms emanating from a for-profit law school, whose faculty presumably would not be tenured, than from the tenured law faculties in the non-profit sector, which tend to walk in lock step. A for-profit law school that affords its students a thorough grounding in the fundamentals would soon win the respect and admiration of the hiring partners in the nation’s law firms. In time they would come to take with a grain of salt the puff pieces and propaganda of their non-profit alma maters, and of the American Bar Association which regulates them.

Posted by DAB

January 7, 2010 in Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- curriculum, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack