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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bowman: Why Junior Law Faculty Are Better

Gregory W. Bowman (Mississippi College School of Law) has published The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools, 2008 BYU Educ. & L.J. 171.  Here is the abstract:

In the ongoing debate about how to improve law school teaching, there is a general consensus that law schools should do more to train junior faculty members how to teach. While this may be the case, this consensus inadvertently leads to an implicit assumption that is not true -- that in all facets of law teaching, junior faculty are at a disadvantage compared to senior faculty. In fact, there are aspects of law teaching for which junior faculty can be better suited than their senior colleagues. This Article reviews scholarship concerning law teaching and identifies three teaching factors that generally favor junior law faculty: generational proximity to the law school student body; recency of law practice experience as junior practitioners; and lower susceptibility to the problem of conceptual condensation - extreme depth of subject matter knowledge that makes it difficult to see subjects from the students' perspective.

This Article employs the economic concepts of (a) economies of scale or productive efficiency and (b) absolute and comparative advantage to suggest how these junior faculty advantages could be harnessed to improve law school teaching. With respect to productive efficiency, it is suggested that greater intra-faculty dialogue can increase a law faculty's output of effective teaching. Currently, senior faculty members often provide assistance or advice to junior faculty in areas of senior faculty expertise or advantage -- such as depth of knowledge in a course's subject matter -- but this is largely a one-way flow of information. However, if junior faculty were also to provide insight and advice to senior faculty regarding areas of junior faculty advantage, the quality of law school teaching might be significantly enhanced. Junior-senior faculty dialogue might be promoted through a variety of means, including faculty workshops and even perhaps teaching reviews of senior faculty by junior faculty.

With respect to the concepts of absolute and comparative advantage, this Article suggests that law school teaching could be improved through the specialization of teaching functions. Instead of professors individually teaching separate courses, professors might coordinate their teaching (that is, team-teach) across a number of courses in the law school curriculum, as a means to more effectively harness the respective strengths (and minimize the respective weaknesses) of junior and senior faculty in the classroom. Through the leveraging of junior faculty advantages, overall law school teaching might be significantly improved. This Article concludes by discussing the implications of these recommendations for law school culture in general and for the legal profession as a whole.

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