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Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Akron Univ. School of Law

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Friday, October 5, 2012

A Review of Failing Law Schools: Is Correlation the same as Causation?

It seems like many law professors spent part of their summer review Brian Tamanaha’s Failing Law Schools and I am no exception.  Jennifer S. Bard, Book Review, 33 (3) Journal of Legal Medicine 417(reviewing Brian Tamanaha Failing Law Schools (2012))

 The issues it raises are indeed so much discussed that our friends at Tax Prof Blog have created an entire section  entitled “A Law School Crisis Reader” which compiles writings from a wide variety of sources.

My review can be summed up in a single phrase: “At root, this book is fatally flawed because it mistakes correlation for causation.”  Just because the global financial crisis has dramatically changed the market for lawyers does not necessarily mean that law schools have been engaging in fraud because they have not been doing a good job teaching legal skills.  My review points out that the criticism this book makes of legal academe, legal scholarship, and the practice skills of law professors may be valid, but they are not the source of today’s employment crisis.  And they certainly are not evidence of bad faith.

 Of course law schools have to do a better job at teaching legal skills. I write about that often.   But our students would not have an easier time finding jobs had we done this earlier and won’t have an easier time if we do it now.  They will be better lawyers sooner, but I have seen no data to suggest that they will have better employment options on graduation.

No one can deny that the legal market, and with it legal education, is changing. Perhaps law will be a less popular career as salaries go down and jobs become scarcer.  But to ascribe the current situation as one that legal academe brought on itself through pride and sloth is not particularly helpful and, yes I will go out on a limb on this, not true….”

 Moreover, “the book’s core assertion is that law school never was, and certainly is not now, worth the money that students are asked to pay, and the conclusion drawn from that assertion is that this lack of value is the cause of the current lack of employment opportunities. Neither of these is true. To say law school was not worth what students were paying is like saying “a designer dress is not “worth” what it costs and that the designer who lives in luxury of its sale is a parasite.”   But that doesn’t mean that “the current bleak job market is a result of long term efforts by “legal educators” to use “regulatory mechanisms. . . to further their own interests,” which he describes as teaching less and earning more.”

It is likely that the coming years will bring dramatic changes to all aspects of higher education.  But to suggest that the current economic crisis was precipitated by law professors’ failure to produce useful scholarship or teach effective drafting skills is not to offer a productive formula for effectuating that change.

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