Friday, November 3, 2017

Revisiting The Ninety-Five Theses: Systemic Reforms of American Legal Education and Licensure by Brent E. Newton: Part IV

I am continuing my revisit of Brent Newton's 95 theses of 2012. (here)

53. The current model for recruiting and hiring law school faculty—the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) “meat market” system and the “job talk” process—fails to focus on the correct skill set for aspiring professors.  Most law professors are still hired based on their scholarly potential.  I agree with Professor Newton that teaching promise should be equally as important when hiring law professors.

55. Most full-time law professors are preoccupied with writing law review articles, which diverts substantial time and resources from their teaching and service duties.  Still true.  Law professors should devote an equal amount of attention to teaching.  They should probably devote more attention during the school year to teaching.

57. “Teaching excellence” (or failure) is a minor factor in terms of hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions at law schools.  Still true.  Newton: "Despite giving lip service to 'teaching excellence,' most law schools—when it comes to the important decisions concerning hiring, promotion, and tenure—care relatively little about their professors’ teaching skills (or lack thereof) and, instead, focus disproportionately on academic legal scholarship."

61. The vast majority of full-time faculty members at law schools should have a significant and successful record of practical legal experience before being hired as a full-time law professor.  Practical experience is important to developing a fully-rounded law teacher.  Some schools are starting to look at practical experience, but most aren't.

65. Law schools are hiring entirely too many law professors with Ph.D.’s.  Still true.

67. Ideological biases often cause law schools to hire and promote some faculty members who are undeserving of their positions from the standpoint of merit.  This has been frequently charged.

69. Full-time law professors should teach more than three or four courses per year or should at least devote substantial additional time working directly with law students71. Interactions between law professors and students outside of the classroom are inadequate.  Law students need significant individual attention to fully develop as lawyers.

72. At a majority of law schools, the faculty members who teach the most important courses to prepare students to practice law—experiential professors—are relegated to second- or third-class status among the faculty.  Still true.

78. Most legal scholarship today has little, if any, usefulness (other than perhaps to the authors).  See Chief Justice Roberts.

81. Professors’ articles are evaluated—for purposes of hiring, promotion, and tenure—based on the “rank” of the law review in which the articles are published as much as on the quality of the scholarship.  Very true.

85. The law review experience for most student staff members is an inefficient pedagogical exercise.  Very true.  There are many other things that law students could spend their time on, like learning to practice.

86. The ABA accreditation authority should remove the scholarly productivity requirement.  This is one of the few of Professor Newton's theses I do not agree with.  Preserving and creating knowledge is a central role of the academy.  We need more emphasis on teaching, but we should not downplay scholarship.

87. If law schools adequately prepared students to enter the legal profession, there would be no need for virtually all graduates to take commercial bar exam preparation courses in order to become licensed.  This one is true, and it hurts.

89. The bar exam should meaningfully assess all of the basic competencies required to be a typical entry-level practitioner.  A few scholars have advocated this, but the bar exam in most states needs significant reformation.

92. A substantial number of law schools should establish postgraduate clinics for low- and middle-income clients, which would allow recent graduates to hone their legal skills and transition into the job market.  Several law schools have done this.

That's it for the theses I wanted to look at in detail.  I will have a wrap-up early next week.  Comments are welcome.

(Scott Fruehwald

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