Monday, August 3, 2020

Law Schools Have Diverted Resources from Foundational and Required Courses to More Academic and 'Boutique' Courses between 1973 and 2017-18.

William J. Carney has just posted a study of basic changes in legal education from 1973 to 2017-2018.  His most startling conclusion: "resources have been diverted (proportionally) from foundational and required courses to more academic and 'boutique' courses."  I find this very troubling.  As Professor Carney noted, bar passage rates have declined significantly during the same period.  In addition, education research has come up with better methods of teaching students, methods which are being ignored by a significant number of law professors.  What students need in the 21st century is more active learning and skills courses, rather than theoretical specialty courses in the area of a professor's Ph.D., which give students no practical help in becoming attorneys.

Curricular Change in Legal Education

Here is the syllabus of Professor Carney's article.

"This article surveys basic changes in legal education from 1973 to 2017-2018, using a comparison of the sizes of the student body with the professoriate, and changes in the allocation of faculty resources over this period.

The paper documents law school enrollments over this period. In summary, student enrollments have been on a roller coaster, and now have declined to 1973 levels after a 40% increase. At the same time, faculty numbers have increased by 70%. While this has resulted in more favorable faculty-student ratios, bar passage rates nationally have declined from 82% to 72%. This is a classic picture of a failing industry, which high fixed costs due to tenure and cyclical revenues, forced to raise tuition to support what has become a bloated faculty. It also raises questions of whether declining bar passage rates are caused by the declining academic credentials law school applicants, or modern failures in teaching.

The study documents that resources have been diverted (proportionally) from foundational and required courses to more academic and “boutique” courses. Some of this may be attributed to the increased number of law faculty members who hold advanced degrees in other fields, which may divert part of their teaching to courses with an affinity for their graduate training, rather than professional preparation."

(Scott Fruehwald)

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