March 15, 2012
Brian Leiter's Four Proposals For Law School Reform
Brian Leiter has suggested four major changes in legal education on his blog. I agree strongly with three of his suggestions, and I disagree with one of them.
Leiter advocates that there should be research law schools and teaching law schools, "so that we have some law schools that are Harvard and Chicago, and some law schools that are Oberlin and Reed." I agree that such a separation would solve many of the problems in contemporary law school education (Actually, I suggested this change on this blog several months ago here). We need centers of learning that will advance knowledge in the law. Even more so, we need law schools that will turn out practice-ready attorneys to serve society. As Leiter notes, the major obstacle in the way of this reform is ABA standards.
Leiter rightly argues that there should be some type of post-tenure review. Leiter declares: "Surely one rather good reason for student anger about the high cost of law school is that it is obvious to them that some faculty don't actually do their jobs." I think all of us have seen tenured faculty at our law schools who haven’t published an article in the twenty years since they received tenure and who are accused by students of teaching from the same notes they used twenty years ago. Also, tenure entrenchment limits needed change at law schools.
Leiter proposes that law schools "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. This would immediately eliminate a huge amount of worthless scholarship. . ." I agree. Law schools have seen an enormous expansion in the number of secondary journals over the last twenty years. I think that this expansion is due not to a need for more publication outlets, but to the prestigious of being on a journal. In other words, students have pressured law schools to create more secondary journals so that they have something to put on their resumes. Also, the additional journals contribute to the pressure to publish on those who really should be spending most of their time teaching. Lastly, law students are not good at judging the quality of articles. They tend to look at the law school the author works for rather than the article.
Finally, I disagree with Leiter’s proposal that law school should be shortened to two years with an optional third year for those students with particular career goals. While I agree that law schools are often not using the third year effectively, I believe that it would be a disaster to eliminate it. Law students are woefully underprepared for practice under the current system. Instead, we should use the third year to make students practice ready. (In this case, I am talking about the majority of law schools, not Harvard, Yale, etc., which should be containing their academic focus.) A model for this is how Washington & Lee has reformed its third year to work on practical skills.
March 15, 2012 | Permalink
So the students coming into my LLM (Taxation) classes will have one-third less legal education than they now have? My experience tells me that it would be better if they arrived with at least one-third MORE (unless, of course, the two years would consist of rigorous courses in which students learn twice what they're currently learning).
Posted by: James Edward Maule | Mar 16, 2012 6:23:21 AM