Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Wrong Reason to Oppose Curriculum Reform

OK, where were we before the disruption of the blog?

Howard Wasserman at PrawfsBlawg has posted a comment on Justice Scalia’s recent commencement address at William & Mary. Justice Scalia argued against the proposals many have made for a two-year law degree, and argued in favor of more required courses in the second and third years. (Professor Wasserman links to the full text of Scalia’s address, if you want to read it.)

Professor Wasserman supports the general idea, but argues that enacting such reforms would put schools at a competitive disadvantage. A school with upper-level requirements would lose out to a school that offered students more flexibility. All else being equal, prospective students would choose flexibility over rigid requirements.

Professor Wasserman is probably correct. At least at the margin, students would probably prefer fewer requirements. I’m not sure how much this would affect law schools with stricter requirements, given the many other factors students consider in choosing a law school. But assume for the sake of argument that stricter curriculum requirements would put a law school at a competitive disadvantage. I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason to oppose upper-level requirements or any other reform of the curriculum.

Law faculties should require the curriculum they think best prepares students for the profession of law, competitive pressures be damned. The purpose of a law school is not to maximize enrollment. The purpose of a law school is to educate students in the law and prepare them to practice. (That does not necessarily mean focusing primarily on how-to training, but that’s an argument for another day.)

Law faculty members can legitimately disagree about the best way to educate law students. But our goal should be to provide the best education we can, within the cost constraints we face. If professors at some law schools don’t take that responsibility seriously, we might lose students to schools focusing more on enrollment than education. If so, it’s sad for the profession, but at least we’ll go down fighting for what we know is right.


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When the ABA was soliciting comments regarding curriculum and cost reforms, I responded. Sent as an email, I didn't realize it would end up posted. My comments are available at: http://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/professional_responsibility/taskforcecomments/201211_thomas_norrisjr_comment.authcheckdam.pdf.

Certainly without the gravitas of Justice Scalia, I don't know how a school can properly equip a young lawyer to become an attorney in a shorter period of time. Statistics tend to bear out that the "grooming process" for attorneys tends to manifest in far higher rates of student and post-grad depression in our profession. I know that I support making personal, estate and gift taxation part of the mandatory curriculum.

Posted by: Tom N | May 28, 2014 5:33:15 PM

An interesting article regarding ABA approved legal education and its comparison to quality non-ABA approved legal education. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/18/business/for-law-schools-a-price-to-play-the-abas-way.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

Posted by: Tom N | May 30, 2014 2:43:43 PM

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