TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Do Law Schools Hire Too Many Ph.Ds?

Dean Stephen Friedman (Pace) has an interesting op-ed in today's Legal Times, A Practical Manifesto for Legal Education.  He argues that "legal education must be brought into closer alignment with the need of law students to hit the ground running when they begin to practice law."

Tax Prof Jim Maule (Villanova) goes further, in Legal Education and Legal Practice: Diverging?:

At the core of Dean Friedman's analysis is his conclusion that "the educational goal of an American law school should be to educate and train effective new lawyers." He addresses how law schools should attain this goal, but for me that's a matter of dealing with a symptom rather than the problem. The problem is that many law faculty do not agree with Dean Friedman. I do. Whenever I make an argument that rests on the premise that the goal of legal education is to educate law students so that they can become legal practitioners, I am met with disagreement from many of my colleagues, not only where I teach, but elsewhere. One colleague put it as succinctly and openly as possible. Law schools, she explained, exist to train legal philosophers. I am grateful she was so direct, because it spared me the effort frequently required to get past the slogans often used to mask that perspective.

My practical reaction is, "Who's going to hire legal philosophers?" Apparently the answer is, "Law schools." What has been happening in law school faculty hiring is a rush to find candidates with Ph.D. degrees. A debate is underway in the legal blogosphere on the question of whether a Ph.D. is "necessary" or "essential" for teaching interdisciplinary courses in law schools....

Blogosphere roundup on the value of Ph.Ds in law teaching and scholarship:

More from Jim Maule:

Interestingly, Dean Friedman suggests that "While we don't need radical changes in a law curriculum that has worked for a long time, legal education must be brought into closer alignment with the need of law students to hit the ground running when they begin to practice law." I disagree. I DO think we need radical changes in a law curriculum that dates back to the end of the nineteenth century. My guess is that Dean Friedman, being a dean, is being necessarily diplomatic. After all, the principle disadvantage to my proposal is that it would require a huge amount of adjustment and remedial learning by law faculty. It is no wonder that they almost universally oppose my plan. Someday a law school, most likely a new one, will decide to forego "imitation of the elite 25" and set out to do what Langdell did some 125 years ago, and that is to change law school so that it is congruent with the world in which its graduates will practice. I doubt it will happen in my professional lifetime else I'd be hanging my phone number and email address on the end of this paragraph.

The likelihood, though, of this happening at any law school is decreasing rapidly. Trends in law school hiring are widening the gap. At one time, practice experience, whether in a law firm, corporate legal department, or government agency, was considered essential in the background of a faculty candidate. Now, the Ph.D. degree or some academic experience, is at least as desirable if not preferred. The intense pressure to publish "scholarly" pieces has given the edge to applicants who already have published. Considering the time pressures of law practice, it is less likely that a practitioner will carry to the interview the resume filled with publications as will the person who hasn't left the academy. Law faculties that evolve to become islands of academics researching and publishing in theoretical areas will be far less sensitive to the needs and realities of legal practice. In some instances, some traces of hostility to the practice world have been, and will be, detected.

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