Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Newton: How Law Profs' Preoccupation with 'Impractical Scholarship' Obstructs Legal Education Reform
In response to decades of complaints that American law schools have failed to prepare students to practice law, several prominent and respected authorities on legal education, including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently have proposed significant curricular and pedagogical changes in order to bring American legal education into the twenty-first century. It will not be possible to implement such proposed curricular and pedagogical reforms if law schools continue their trend of primarily hiring and promoting tenure-track faculty members whose primary mission is to produce theoretical, increasingly interdisciplinary scholarship for law reviews rather than prepare students to practice law. Such impractical scholars, because they have little or no experience in the legal profession and further because they have been hired primarily to write law review articles rather than primarily to teach, lack the skill set necessary to teach students how to become competent, ethical practitioners. The recent economic recession, which did not spare the legal profession, has made the complaints about American law schools’ failure to prepare law students to enter the legal profession even more compelling; law firms no longer can afford to hire entry-level attorneys who lack the basic skills required to practice law effectively. This essay proposes significant changes in both faculty composition and law reviews aimed at enabling law schools to achieve the worthy goals of reformists such as the Carnegie Foundation.
Mr. Newton has some harsh words for law professors:
Especially at law schools in the upper echelons of the U.S. News & World Report rankings, the core of the faculties seem indifferent or even hostile to the concept of law school as a professional school with the primary mission of producing competent practitioners. ... Regardless whether they possess a Ph.D., a vastly disproportionate number of new law professors graduated from so-called “elite” law schools, which not coincidentally employ the largest percentage of impractical faculty. “Law professors are a self-perpetuating elite, chosen in overwhelming part for a single skill: the ability to do well consistently on law school examinations, primarily those taken as 1L‟s, and preferably ones taken at elite „national‟ law schools.” Some critics contend this homogeneity in law school faculties has resulted in an ethos of perceived intellectual superiority and classism and has made full-time professors, at least those with tenure, jealous of their privileged positions. Other critics contend that many law professors are so absorbed in their scholarly pursuits that they are largely unconcerned with students‟ needs – academic or otherwise. ...
Could [a typical law school] professor whose primary scholarly interest is criminal law and procedure effectively prosecute or represent a criminal defendant at a felony trial? Could such a professor who writes law review articles about the First Amendment effectively represent a client in a civil rights litigation? Could such a professor whose expertise is securities regulation effectively represent a client or the government in an S.E.C. enforcement action? Imagine such professors being first-chair counsel in a complex civil or criminal litigation who must interview potential witnesses, take depositions and engage in electronic discovery, file and respond to summary judgment motions, conduct voir dire, present the testimony of an expert witness, cross-examine (and impeach) hostile witnesses, and make closing arguments to a jury. There are some full-time non-clinical law professors capable of competently representing clients in real cases, but they are the exception, not the rule, particularly among professors hired in recent years at highly-ranked law schools.How can we expect law students to become competent practitioners if the core of full-time law faculties, notwithstanding their scholarly prowess, do not themselves possess even the basic skills required to practice the type of law about which they teach and write? How can we expect law students to become competent and ethical practitioners when the faculty members best suited to teach them the necessary practical skills and ethical lessons from real-world cases – clinicians, LRW professors, and adjuncts – are marginalized and even openly held in disdain by some members of the “main” faculty?
For a detailed discussion of the article, see Why Can't Johnny Research Practice Law? Or, Would You Hire a Law Prof to Represent You? (Law Librarian Blog).