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February 11, 2009

Practitioner sabbaticals

This week, one of my colleagues began a six-month sabbatical to work as an Assistant District Attorney.  He’s an outstanding teacher and very popular with students, recently received tenure, and did not need this experience to improve his standing at the school.  Rather, the point seems to be simply to become an even better classroom professor.  

He teaches advocacy, and his reason for taking such a sabbatical is to deepen his understanding of what happens in the “real world” he talks about in class.  He was hired shortly after law school and a clerkship, so he did not previously have a chance to get this kind of experience.

Nonetheless, this kind of sabbatical seems very rare relative to sabbaticals for scholarship.  Perhaps, at least at those schools which focus on practitioner training, more of a balance would be a good thing. 

-- Mark Osler

February 11, 2009 | Permalink


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This story may describe inappropriate hiring.

Advocacy is a set of procedures. I have never done another set of procedures, Winter Alpine climbing. May I be hired to teach it? Sure, but Winter Alpine climbing is dangerous. My inexperienced lectures may hurt people. If this job were to take place, I would be honest with myself. I would serve as a host to guest lecturers with the most experience possible, including investigators of catastrophic outcomes.

There is another lawyer academic area with similarly inappropriate inexperience. Law reviews. Imagine a specialty surgery journal, or a bridge engineering journal. Med students and grad students, with 80 hour a week study schedules, get to review submitted articles. Such students do not even help to demand the clarity needed by novices. They believe inscrutability looks smart. Most law review articles are conclusory personal pronouncements, with the teeniest of innovation or usefulness. Yet they do private lawmaking when judges rely on an article in appellate decisions. For example, a judge reads an article. He ends a 1000 years of contract law, an unauthorized legislative act, and establishes unconscionability.

One may retort, the teacher got good ratings. Ratings depend on likability and easy grading. Many unlicensed, untrained, phony doctors, when arrested, had busy practices and with good patient opinions. The students do not even know what they do not know.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Feb 13, 2009 7:06:26 AM

I would favor and even want to encourage practice sabbaticals if --- and only if --- the professor was going to be practicing in some kind of public interest setting or otherwise working in an area/setting that presents a unique set of experiences. I would not want to create a ready means for professors to take a break from teaching just to be another cog in the biglaw firm wheel.

Who is paying the professor's salary during this sabbatical? If the state is, it is really more of a leave than a sabbatical. If the school is, I suspect the state is grateful.

Posted by: Doug B. | Feb 14, 2009 8:16:59 AM

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