Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Comment Glitch

My post last Friday promoted a lot of comments, and I appreciate very much all of the people who took the time to read the post and think about the points in it. So many readers commented that the blog won't display them all, and we haven't been able to get that glitch fixed yet. So, I'm reproducing the ones that don't show in the original post here. We lost any formatting you might have done, but I'm guessing at what it would have been. To comment on these or the prior post or comments, comment to this post.

Jeff Hirsch said:

Here' the most thorough study I'm aware of on the scholarship-teaching connection. Quick take, there's little to no connection between the two.


Brad said:

The problem with studies that use existing tenured faculty is that all such faculty (except perhaps the very oldest) were hired under the status quo criteria. Among such a pool, both scholarly output and teaching output are largely correlated with continued enthusiasm and engagement post tenure. You are essentially simply comparing the dynamic members of the faculty with those who have checked out. To properly study the question the comparison group would need to have comparably compensated and supported teachers who were hired, tenured and evaluated based on thier accomplishments in the classroom. If this latter group underperformed in the classroom as compared to those hired under the status quo then those advocating an inextricable link between scholarship and teaching would have powerful data. I don't expect any such experiment to take place, because it would be too high risk to the dominant ruling class.

Orin Kerr said:

Nancy Leong writes: Howard mentions that he has seen a correlation between good teaching and good scholarship. I tend to agree. Of course this sort of thing is very difficult to measure empirically, but I am familiar with data from two different institutions (not necessarily my better evaluations. Of course there are all kinds of limitations to these data, but I mention them as one item in a suite of measurements that own) that found a strong correlation between scholarly output and student evaluation scores -- that is, more productive scholars tend to get schools might consider examining internally as we think through the important issues that Marcia has raised.

FWIW, an empirical study by Prof. Ben Barton found no correlation between teaching and scholarship: This empirical study attempts to answer an age-old debate in legal academia: whether scholarly productivity helps or hurts teaching. The study is of an unprecedented size and scope. It covers every tenured or tenure-track faculty member at 19 American law schools, a total of 623 professors. The study gathers four years of teaching evaluation data (calendar years 2000-03) and correlates these data against five different measures of research productivity/scholarly influence. The results are counter-intuitive: there is either no correlation or a slight positive correlation between teaching effectiveness and any of the five measures of research productivity.


David Yamada said:

I really appreciate this exchange. I'm going to offer a few points as an omnibus response and then be quiet.

1. THE ATM ISSUE/ELITE SCHOOLS -- Let's get back to the important question of universities using their law schools as ATMs. I think it's an arguably defensible practice at the elite law schools, whose graduates are still likely to command high salaries upon graduation, even if their options aren't as seemingly endless as during the heyday.

2. THE ATM ISSUE/REGIONAL SCHOOLS -- But the ATM practice is downright wrong, even immoral, at regional law schools where even the successful job seekers are getting law firm job offers in the $30-60k ranges. I'm going to guess that many regional universities that drain their law schools dry are run by high-ranking administrators and boards who have been allergic to fundraising work for a long, long time.

3. IF YOU CUT THE SUBSIDY -- Let's say a regional law school is being taxed 20 percent of its tuition revenue by the parent institution, a middlin' figure. If you cut the figure to "mere" tithing (10 percent), you could cut law school tuition by 10 percent without skipping a beat. At a law school charging, say, $35,000 tuition, that 10 percent cut would result in roughly $10,000 less in student loans per student over a 3 year program. In other words: Why aren't we talking more about the ATM issue as part of the financial crisis in legal education?

4. FACULTY PAY -- Likewise, professors at regional schools shouldn't expect to earn what colleagues at elite institutions pull down. In the competition for candidates with elite credentials, some regional schools are breaking the bank and the morale of current faculty to attract candidates who "just missed the cut" at Top 15 Law, and I think it's a huge mistake. That said, the now-standard bashing of the "six-figure salaries" is a bit overdone, at least when it comes to folks 10-20-30 years out of law school. These days, a low six-figure salary is not unusual for lawyers with a decent chunk of seniority, especially in expensive metro areas. At my school, the median salary for a full professor is just above the starting salary for a BigLaw associate, although there are HUGE variations that I won't get into lest I start throwing things.

5. SCHOLARSHIP AT REGIONAL SCHOOLS -- We should recognize that regional schools cannot copy the compensation systems and work expectations of elite schools without some monstrous tradeoffs at the expense of their students. That said, all law schools are graduate-level professional schools, and there should be room for professors at those schools to contribute to the world's knowledge through scholarly work. Modest research stipends aren't the reasons for the financial crisis in legal education. I speak as someone who entered the academy attracted by the opportunity to teach, originally regarding scholarship as something of a chore in order to secure my job. Now, I have a strong appreciation for both, as well as for pro bono service. It's about balance, not all or nothing. Good teaching and good scholarship are not mutually exclusive, and in fact can be complementary. David Yamada Suffolk

 Mitchell Rubinstein said:

This is cross posted from Ryan's website. Ryan: This is a great idea. I have two comments. First, I would not use data from Rate My Teachers. Rather, I would try to get data from the law schools themselves. A much better comparison would be to compare adjunct prof rankings to FT prof rankings. I think you know my thoughts. I cup of coffee says that the adjuncts will win every time at every law school. I am going to cross post this on Workplace Prof Blog. Mitch

 cas127 said:

"troubles me too because it seems to already presume that some things may not have value unless they are easily commodified." I suggest that the Professor's students place this common self-serving sentiment on the tuition checks that they write to the Professor's law school - at 10% of the demanded tuition price. Posturing profs like these (probably a majority of the profession) only talk about "priceless" things when they are ones cashing (not writing) the checks.

Alex Reinert said:

I think it is pretty difficult to make the kind of connection between teaching effectiveness and faculty experience that people are looking for (on either side of this debate). Mostly that is because I do not think student evaluations are a very good indicator of teacher quality -- they might be a good indicator of some elements of teacher quality, but if so I think they are very limited. More troubling to me is comments like the most recent from AnonProf, which seems to equate anti-intellectualism with a concern with training in the practice of law. Maybe AnonProf did not mean to imply that training students how to practice is somehow less intellectual than training students how to engage with complex theoretical concepts. But to the extent that AnonProf did, I think it is an unfortunate byproduct of the general lack of practice experience that most professors have. Basically, everyone wants to justify their own bona fides, so practical experience must somehow be marginalized as anti-intellectual by those who are steeped in high theory, and theory must somehow be marginalized as irrelevant by those who have principally practiced. It all seems like a false choice to me. I happen to think it is embarrassing that my six or so years of practicing law (with some continued forays after joining the academy) is considered to be a lot by some law professors. And I think that for some classes (Civil Procedure comes to mind), it is valuable to have at least some professors who actually have stood up in court, drafted pleadings, etc. That said, practice experience is not essential to being an effective professor, even in a course like Civ Pro -- it can help, but it is far from sufficient or necessary. Similarly, it is important to have professors who are well-grounded in theory, especially when they care about connecting that theory to decisions that lawyers make every day. But theory is not so mystifying that one is disabled from engaging in it by virtue of having stepped into a courtroom one too many times. So it would be nice if we could stop the sniping -- I get that many law schools have tended to favor the theoretical frame over the practical one, but I don't believe that reversing that trend will solve our problems. I think what we are generally lacking in law schools, regardless of who is teaching our students, is good measures of how well we are communicating to our students, and how much what we do in class is of assistance to them as they prepare for their careers (clinical teaching may be an exception, at least when it is done within the difficult pedagogical framework that most good clinicians aspire to). I don't think that makes me an anti-intellectual; I want to be an effective teacher, and if we think that we can be effective without caring about what our students are going to do after they graduate, we are in a sad place. As for medical scholarship, AnonProf, it has always been my perception that the gap between theory and practice in medical schools is much narrower than it has been in law schools. My understanding, limited as it may be, is that the professors at medical schools are both experienced practitioners and researchers -- and medical research is often informed by practical experience at least as much as abstract theory.


Biffer said:

Respectfully, I think the biggest problem with the quality of legal education stems not from the differing background of the professors but from the mere quantity of professors. Simply put - there are too many law schools and too many professors. Inevitably bad professors are hired simply to have a body to put in front of students to charge them admission. There's much talk about concern for the students getting a proper education and beginning a prosperous legal career, but the actions point instead to concern truly lying on the school being prosperous. And why not? The old wisdom is that, when it rains, you line up buckets, and right now it's raining law school application, so schools are lining up professors to teach them. Which, of course, is a disservice to the student. A shrinking market, reduced wages, lengthier partner tracks, "alternative tracks" that don't lead to partner at all, and more and more schools opening with more and more sections of students. The questions you should ask yourselves aren't "what value does my work add to society" or "what value do law professors as a whole add," but "what value will my students add, what value does my school add, and what value will my students receive?" Odds are the profession would be stronger if most of the schools represented in this thread went belly-up.

John said:

"With research emphasized, law profs are people who were at the top of their class from a good law school and presumably could have become $800/hour attorneys but chose not to." Lol this is the biggest myth around. Yeah you probably could have gone into biglaw and worked your way up to $800 per hour IF you were willing to work the hours, deal with the stress of a supervising attorney, and the demands of the clients. Most attorneys leave biglaw within the first five years for these reasons. The argument that your law professor salary is meager in comparison to that biglaw partnership you could have had is ridiculous. Becoming a biglaw partner takes a ton of work and a lot of luck. And even if you "win" the big money you still lose by having a miserable life. When TTT's like SLU shut down because they can't fill their 1L classes, we'll see how wonderful the legal job options are for experienced law professors. SLU increased tuition from $27,250 (04-05) to $36,440 (12-13). That's a 33 percent increase in eight years. You should be ashamed of yourself.

BoredJD said:

"Law school isn't vocational training. Nazi Germany's monstrous legal system also had its share of excellent practitioners. In law school, we teach social values, norms, and a host of other things unassociated with pragmatic exclusivity." Do you also teach them the law? Specifically, "I'm always curious by these anti-intellectual arguments about law professors. I wonder whether the folks who hold them would also do away with philosophy, classics, English, and other liberal arts programs that are not pragmatic and are areas few people get jobs in. After all, most undergrads will in the end get non-theoretical jobs. Doing away with theory in law school would have the same harmful effect on students and society as a whole as doing away with it in undergrad would have. I'm just glad the vocational training mentality hasn't taken root; otherwise, the result would be shallow lawyers. This is particularly true of students who haven't had the benefit of a liberal arts education, like engineers, who can be excellent lawyers but need to learn analysis and rigor that scholars can provide."

I'm a recent law school graduate of a top school and can tell you where my newfound anti-intellectualism comes from. Before law school, I never gave much thought to the anti-intellectual opinions that pervaded my family and community. I thought cries of "limousine liberalism" were overblown and baseless. Then I went to law school. And I saw professors speak in one breath about "social justice" and progressive ideology and in the next breath raise my tuition by 1-2K per year in a deep recession and tell me "you signed the contract" and "can just drop out if you don't like it." I saw law schools engage in conduct that is arguably fraud and defend their behavior with "caveat emptor." Standards of conduct professors would decry when done by banks or corporations, such as counting on people to make irrational decisions on incomplete information, were ignored or accepted when done by their own institutions for their own pecuniary benefit. This is why people don't like you, not because they don't share your values. It is because when push comes to shove, you are no better than anyone else. This would have been amusing, but for the fact that I took out about 110K in debt and am about to spend the next 30 years of my life in a profession that had taken a MASSIVE reputation and prestige hit because of your actions. Just today I talked to a recent BA holder working at a coffee shop who told me she would never go to law school because it costs too much and she personally knows graduates with high debt and no job. The quoted argument is an especially frustrating one. Rather than engage in the necessary value analysis from the perspective of the student, you would suggest that because theory adds SOME discernible value, that justifies whatever you charge. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Most people go to law school to get jobs as lawyers. That gives you some freedom to teach theory, for as long as people are getting jobs as lawyers, you can pretty much teach whatever you want. But the flip side to this is that when the jobs disappear, or when the cost becomes to high to justify the expected starting salary, students will abandon the effort. This discussion itself is part of the problem. The simple fact is that there are too many law students and they have too much debt. If law schools graduated fewer law students, and the decision to go to law school was not financially ruinous, you could stand on your head and read 50 Shades of Grey all day for all I care. You should be focusing your efforts on how you would structure a law school with 50% of current enrollment that charges around 15K per year.


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AnonProf 2.0 commented on the prior post:

Amen to anonprof06 - I'm so sick of the argument too that practice someone makes you a better teacher. The point of law school isn't to learn to write interrogatories -- that can be learned in a day, or at least in one litigation and you've got it. The point of law school is to provide a template to any POTENTIAL area you choose to work in. It requires a more theoretical approach b/c it's not an apprentice system. And that's good -- most people graduating from a 3-year law school can go into any field and eventually get it b/c they have the right tools. Of course they're not ready to practice yet - nor is any other professional leaving school. But teaching and practice are totally different skill sets and writing motions for 20 years doesn't mean anything one way or the other about your ability as a teacher. Mitchell -- I'm sorry you've had bad luck on the AALS market. But a lot of people with the sort of resume you dislike also have had back luck on the AALS market - it's not necessarily b/c you've practiced or worked for an union (which is awesome by the way). But honestly, you're being so extreme that it all sounds like sour grapes. Law schools costs come more from administrative growth -- and from having to pay the main university -- than from faculty growth. Good full-time faculty are necessary to teach this template. And yes, the people who write the most are the ones who frankly work the hardest, and are likely to be the best teachers. My hope is that a lot of this is just bitterness b/c of the economy. But it would be a shame if a combination of resentment and Republican state legislatures destroyed one of the few things America does better than everyone else in the world -- provide top-quality graduate education.

Posted by: Marcia | Aug 15, 2012 1:55:54 PM

Is anonprof06 an actual law professor, or a trollish parody of same? Contrary to his cartoonishly inflated self-image, the scholarship produced by law professors is not, I repeat NOT, saving the practicing bar from becoming Nazis. Practitioners overwhelmingly and correctly disregard the vast bulk of your scholarship as jargon-filled careerist nonsense written by persons who wouldn't know a courtroom from a faculty lounge. If anonprof6 wants a career as an English or a philosophy professor, fine, let him clearly and honorably pursue that goal. But he should not "profess" a field he has never practiced, and should not deceive his students into thinking they are getting a professional education.

I certainly prefer Marcia's instant "template" metaphor to her prior Derrida inspired "order and chaos" hokum. Unfortunately, the "template" of law school teaching is informally known as "hide-the-ball," under which nine weeks worth of doctrinal material and associated analytical framework, or tests, is inflated to fill three long years. In a way, anonprof6 is right to assert that nonpractitioners do better in providing such a fraudulent educational experience. The practicing bar would have a hard time displaying such contempt for their own profession.

Law is a learn-by-doing field, and law school is, allegedly, a professional school. I believe law students would prefer a doctrinal crash course followed by clinical training in a few practice areas of their choice. I believe that that is a preferable "template" for training able young lawyers to your order-and-chaos puffery, or whatever other metaphor or narrative you invent to rationalize milking them for three years' tuition (at levels that will sink many into a lifetime of debt servitude). And I believe that the students, who are paying for your lives of wealth and ease, should have the choice.


Posted by: dybbuk | Aug 15, 2012 6:04:07 PM

For those you have not seen it, Professor Tamanaha just published a book called Failing Law Schools He discusses much of what we are discussing here.
I do not know if there truly is a way of judging teaching effectiveness. What I do know is that students I have spoke to at the 2 schools where I have taught consistently prefer adjuncts. Biffer argues there are too many profs. I actually agree that there are too many adjunct profs. Schools have so many because they do not teach every semester. The pay is embarrassingly low, but that is a story for another post.
In my ideal world, we would have more full time profs, less adjuncts and we would ONLY have profs with significant and meaningful experience. Sorry, I would not grandfather existing profs with those fancy P.hd's from Harvard. Frankly, I like the fact that the new St. Louis Dean plans to continue to practice. I think he is on to something. It will be interesting to see how much the faculty fights him. I suspect the new Dean is in for a battle.

Posted by: Mitchell Rubinstein | Aug 15, 2012 6:28:17 PM

Prof. McCormick, I should warn you that you've been linked by the Campos "scam" blog, so it's five regular commenters are now descending on you. These are people who believe that (1) law professors are Nazis, (2) no one should go to law school unless it's Harvard or Yale or free, (3) law professors are Nazis, (4) only people who have practiced for twenty years are qualified to teach, (5) law professors are Nazis, and (6) Paul Campos is a courageous man.

Posted by: anon | Aug 15, 2012 7:15:27 PM

dybbuk: "I believe law students would prefer a doctrinal crash course followed by clinical training in a few practice areas of their choice." That's maybe the funniest thing I've ever read. So students should basically take a BarBri class (which, b/c it's rote memorization, is forgotten in weeks) and then be thrown into a clinic. My god! I think we're on to something here!

As a practitioner, I assume that you know that law is more than a list of doctrines. You have to work within them, distinguish them, etc. You fail to acknowledge it but these are things you learned in law school. And teaching and communicating these things is a completely separate skill set.

Posted by: anonprof 2.0 | Aug 15, 2012 8:04:25 PM

anonprof 2.0:

Oh, yes, a "completely different skill set." I see you have settled on that phrase, in lieu of Marcia McCormick's "order and chaos" mysticism, a good choice. Again, I put it to you: ask your students whether they would prefer a "template" education as explained by McCormick or whether they would prefer a doctrinal crash course followed by a series of clinics and apprenticeships in a few practice areas of their choosing?

Speaking of which, where is my medical school professorship? I have never practiced medicine, or produced any scholarship useful to medical practitioners. But professing is a "completely different skill set."

Of course, I "work with," interpret, and distinguish statute and caselaw on behalf of my clients (for about 1/3 of what law professors at lousy law schools make, and still they whine about their precious summer stipends!). However, I assure you that these were not "things" I learned to do in law school, but in actual practice-- and necessarily so, since my arguments depend on the peculiar facts of each case.

As for "the funniest thing I have ever read," here is my list:

1. “Talking in class, and other ways of throwing yourself into the mix, is a terrific, bad-consequence-free way of actually starting to practice at being a lawyer. Take advantage.” -- Professor Paul Horwitz, Alabama

2. “We are not producing plumbers and bookkeepers, we are producing the leaders of our Society whose primary ability is the strength of their intellects. Law teachers hone the mind in a variety of ways through a variety of methods.” --Professor Peter Bayer, UNLV

3. "Students benefit from the scholar's ability to turn chaos into order and communicate both the chaos and the order to someone who hasn't done the same work. The students have to start with order and see how it is constructed from chaos and how to explain that before they can learn to do the same thing, which really, is what lawyers do for their clients." --Professor Marcia McCormick, St. Louis


Posted by: dybbuk | Aug 16, 2012 8:46:14 AM

BTW, here's an in-depth interview with Prof. Tamanaha, conducted by Lawrence Velvel of the maverick Massachusetts School of Law, posted on YouTube. Tamanaha provides a very good summary of the main points in his book, interspersed with pitches from Velvel for his law school:

Posted by: David Yamada | Aug 16, 2012 1:05:38 PM

"ask your students whether they would prefer a "template" education as explained by McCormick or whether they would prefer a doctrinal crash course followed by a series of clinics and apprenticeships in a few practice areas of their choosing?"

I think this is actually a great idea if your goal is to create the most incompetent lawyers in the industrialized world. I mean, 1Ls clearly know EXACTLY what they want to do in the first week of law school. Let's confine them to a narrow practice area before they know anything about anything. That's another really great idea.

These comments have actually reassured me. People like dybbuk literally have no clue what they're talking about in terms of reforming teaching. It's good for us to keep that in mind when we hear these arguments. Teaching, again, provides a template that allows law school graduates to enter any field AFTER they have some general knowledge. The fact that you can abstract skills from individual cases is precisely what law school did for you. Do law schools have problems -- yes, like every other institution. But this is just comical projection of resentment on people that literally had nothing to do with your voluntary life choices.

Posted by: anonprof 2.0 | Aug 16, 2012 2:22:29 PM

dybbuk is notoriously clueless but a regular presence at Campos and JD Underground. Here's a typical contribution from the latter:

"I think that she has the right age, gender, credentials, and eager-to-please attitude for an "odd job" I have in mind. Basically, it involves the girl dressing up as a law professor, bending over, and trying to ask me questions about International Shoe while I spank her with a wet slipper."


This pathetic individual is a 1998 graduate of Washington & Lee, now works as a public defender, but spends hours every day harassing law professors and aspiring law professors on-line. Fortunately he has no idea what he's talking about.

Posted by: anon | Aug 16, 2012 2:48:37 PM

anonprof 2.0:

Hard to convince someone that 2+2=4 when his livelihood depends on the equation: 2+2=5. And it is equally hard to convince a law professor who wouldn't know a courtroom from a faculty lounge that stretching nine weeks worth of doctrinal material plus analytical framework into three long years while providing minimal clinical training is a form of scamming-- but scamming it is. Your graduates are not ready to enter "every" practice field, but rather none. A few might be lucky enough to stumble onto an employer or a mentor who will provide the training they need to practice law, most will not.

Those 1Ls happen to be paying for your life of wealth and ease by incurring a debt load that will take many years to repay. I am sorry that you have such contempt for your students that you refuse to even ask them whether they would prefer the McCormick template or a doctrinal crash course followed by a series of clinics and externships in a few practice areas of their choice. So how about this: Go to the ever-shrinking percentage of your graduates who have actually carved out a place for themselves in the law and ask them: looking back now, which would you rather have had your "template" or intensive training in a few practice areas?

By the way, one doesn't abstract "skills" from clear-as-mud caselaw, that is just more mysticism. You find cases that might help your client, and distinguish those that do not. And this skill is developed through actually researching and writing briefs, not studying doctrine from caselaw. Such a basic point, count on a law professor to fail to understand. Or, I suspect, pretend to fail to understand. 2+2=5.


Posted by: dybbuk | Aug 16, 2012 4:54:57 PM

Marcia: I am not sure whether your comment above reflects your own views or is recounting someone else's, but let's be clear about some things. I have practiced for 24 years or so and I do not believe that law schools can produce practice-ready lawyers no matter how they might reshape their curricula. But do not ignore practical training. One, students want it. Two, it can make students more valuable to prospective employers. Three, it can help prepare students for careers as solos. It won't go all the way on any of thee points, or even most of the way, but it is a positive step. Mini-courses on deposition skills, will drafting, drafting commercial documents, preparing pleadings, etc., should be offered. And you cannot defend the absence of practical courses given the many dubious "law and" courses that law schools offer. Schools should hire more law professors with significant practical experience (i.e., 7+) years for several reasons. The two most promient are (1) it generally means that they can put legal principles in context and actually apply them in ways helpful to their students; and (2) their experience is a fertile source of article ideas, i.e., it potentially aids scholarship. The comment about writing motions for 20 years as having no relation to one's skills as a teacher is true but distorts and ignores the real issues, and comes across as arrogant and defensive at a time when the academy cannot afford that perception.

Posted by: Doug Richmond | Aug 16, 2012 6:39:56 PM


Just to be clear, those were the views of anonprof 2.0.

Although regarding your point about practice readiness, I am a bit skeptical that it's possible for law school to truly make students practice ready after even three years. It takes a lot of time to develop the kind of judgment that good lawyers need, and I don't think that can be developed in a classroom setting alone. Clinics get closer, but doctrinal and writing classes set the foundation so that substantive law and skill learning can take place in the clinical setting. Maybe something more like a residency model would work, where we have two years of doctrinal classes and then at least a year and maybe two of closely supervised clinical work. Still, that might be even a more expensive educational model because the student teacher ratio would have to be much smaller for that clinical portion.

Posted by: Marcia | Aug 16, 2012 8:32:23 PM

I'd like to add a perspective that often doesn't enter the doctrine vs. skills debate.

To this mix, we need to add the element of personal inspiration. Once a law student discovers an area of interest, hopefully even a passion, a lot of the rest starts to take care of itself. That student will be motivated to take a program of courses that works for her. She'll seek out the skills, clinical, and internship opportunities she needs to prepare herself and make herself more marketable. We can provide guidance; she'll already have the motivation.

But all too often, I hear professors talking about requiring things, whether we're talking courses or skills/experiential training. The first year is still loaded up with increasingly less practice-relevant courses, and students whose interests do not fall within that prescribed curriculum start to lose the spark that brought them to law school in the first place. By the time they hit the second year, the flame is flickering or doused already.

Basic skills are important. Understanding legal doctrine and analysis is important. And certainly reversing the tuition and student loan spike is critical. In addition, we really need to think about how to help and encourage our students to find their way in this profession.

David Yamada

Posted by: David Yamada | Aug 17, 2012 10:08:37 AM

Most of my students arrive in law school without a clear career goal in mind; some for example might think they want to be litigators, but of these some aren't very clear on the differences between a life as a criminal defense lawyer and an insurance defense lawyer.

Of those that have a clear career goal, some significant fraction find that their interests change while in law school -- they stumble on to something that they find more appealing, or discover that they don't want to be Jack McCoy after all.

It is this process of discovery that makes me somewhat suspicious of arguments that law schools need to be radically reshaped to emphasize practice skills. The practice skills argument makes sense from the retrospective perspective of a practitioner 5, 10, 25 years out, who is in a position to identify the skills he or she needs to do the job, and wonders why on earth the law school couldn't have taught me those things instead of wasting my time on the APA, or the evolution of regulations on nude dancing.

The problem of course is that at the time the student is in school, neither the school nor the student can say with any confidence what the student will be doing in 5 years, nor even what the student will wish to be doing right after graduation. A generalist legal education implies less detailed skills training -- since only a few of these skills transfer well across sub-disciplines. Drafting a contract is not much like prosecuting a drug dealer, nor is it like prosecuting a patent.

Furthermore, at least in the sort of practice I had (civil litigation), it genuinely helps to know at least a little about a lot of legal issues. I would tend to believe that knowing enough about a range of law increases the ability to spot problems and well serves clients in a host of practices. You do not need to know the ins and outs of trademark law to litigate or be outside corporate counsel. But it can be very helpful to know enough to say that perhaps it's time to bring in an IP specialist, or an environmental expert, or what have you, if you run across things in interviews or files that might turn in to big problems later. Are there practices so specialized that this is not true? I'm sure there are; but I think they are the minority.

I think an inevitable result of a focus on skills training is narrowing and tracking of students. Since so many come to law school without firm or well-formed ideas of the kind of legal career that would best suit them, I don't think that for most students this would be in their interests.

Posted by: ARegionalProf | Aug 31, 2012 5:09:45 AM

Candidates who have been in practice for many years and complain they can't get teaching jobs almost always miss the reason they are not getting hired. It isn't because of a general bias against practitioners. Rather, it is because, well, the particular practitioners applying for the jobs are not good enough. It is very, very hard to land a full-time teaching job in a law school. There are far more law school graduates than they are teaching slots available and the slots go to the very strongest candidates. Even if law schools were inclined to give more weight to practical experience, most practitioners--indeed, virtually all--would not get jobs. Even if law schools were only to hire candidates with substantial practical experience, most practitioners--indeed, virtually all--would not get jobs. 20 years as a litigator might give you practical experience that you can impart to students but there are many thousands of lawyers with the same record, just as there are thousands of graduates from top 10 or top 20 law schools. Yet most candidates from either group won't get hired. Complaints about bias in hiring mostly reflect a refusal to recognize the average quality of one's own credentials and an inflated sense of one's own talents and promise. Practitioners are fond of comparing their own credentials to those of newbie professors out of law school for a few years. But that's the wrong comparison. Practitioners should compare themselves to others in their field in order to determine how close they are to the top and therefore how desirable they are to a law school which has its pick of the field. David Boies, Ted Olson, Sonia Sotomayor: these people represent the kind of talent that law schools are looking for. If you haven't risen to that level then it isn't bias against practitioners (Boies, Olson, Sotomayor could all get teaching jobs tomorrow) that is holding you back.

Posted by: Prof | Sep 1, 2012 7:37:46 PM

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