Friday, January 27, 2012
It is a fact universally acknowledged that law faculty are in want of purpose. It takes a lot to get us riled, and even more to call us to the barricades. But the current state of financing legal education is just such a burning theater, and we all should be troubled by the fast-churning events. Because most of us went to law school during the Golden Age, which I situate as having ended about five years ago at the top of the application apex and the height of the modern-day job markets for law graduates, most of us are blissfully unaware of recent developments that literally threaten the enterprise. I write to discuss these many moving parts and to call us to action as a community, for threats to the universe of legal education will affect us all to our collective detriment....
[A]ll of us similarly have a dog in this fight of cost containment and in making legal education accessible and affordable to our students. We cannot simply hope that the problems will resolve themselves. We have erected a substantial system of training lawyers, one that is a spectacular success by any measure, notwithstanding the cracks in the infrastructure. We all need to keep up with these developments, counter challenges to our existence, and work harder to explain why our system is worth saving at its core. We also need to do a better job of explaining the large role of lawyers in the world society, not only as technicians with attention to detail but as defenders of important core values and democratic principles. I do not view the migrating role of lawyers to civilian life across non-law fields as evidence of our declining competence, as some commentators have in analyzing legal employment figures, but rather this as robust evidence of the growing value of being a lawyer and applying our skills to the many societal problems in need of our multifaceted talents. It is no accident that a disproportionate number of lawyers serve in business enterprises, as well as in positions of governmental leadership and civic participation, giving generously of our time and talent.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to be cheerleaders for legal education writ large and our way of life, and to be critics that hold it to high standards. In many countries, law faculty are entirely part-time, and widespread student access is limited by a filter of counterproductive and inefficient attrition. This is not the path we have chosen, and it is our glory. At the least, we should not weaken our chosen profession by inattention, avarice, or acrimony. Speaking out against lawyers is an ugly habit, yet I have witnessed law teachers do it in public venues. Others will attempt to diminish both the rule of law and its means of transmission, so we need not add to this chorus. We should not belittle law’s accomplishments, just as we should not overlook its weaknesses or inefficiencies or inequities. The bell will toll for all of us, even if we do not always hear its loud peals.