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Sunday, August 12, 2012

St. Louis Prof Addresses Turmoil at Her Law School

St. Louis LogoFollowing up on my previous posts (links below):  Workplace Prof Blog: Job Security, Law School, and the Bigger Picture, by Marcia McCormick (St. Louis):

I'm not going to talk about the details of the [resignation of St. Louis Dean Annette Clark and Sixth Circuit's affirmance of the dismissal of St. Louis visiting professor Lynn Branham from her tenured position at Thomas Cooley] ... (I have strong feelings, but this is not the place to discuss those), but I do want to have a conversation (or contribute to an ongoing one) about how it all fits into bigger changes and what they might mean.

One of the most compelling pieces of this for every law professor, student, or person thinking about going to law school is the way these events are seen as having some relationship to the problems law schools and universities face right now: the high cost of higher ed. and especially law school, declining enrollments, declining financial support from sources outside of tuition, and the "worth" of earning a law degree. Above the Law (I'm sorry, I can't link to it because the comments give me Auto-Admit flashbacks) saw the resignation as resistance to university efforts to use the law school as a cash cow, and much of the debate in the comments there (shudder) and at least some to Paul Caron's initial post have focused on whether, to the extent the fight is over money, the money is for the benefit of students or faculty.

Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, the message on one side is that if the money was to be spent on research stipends for faculty, that expenditure is not legitimate and should not be made by the law school (or the university) in the first place. Sometimes that's expressed as skepticism that any research actually is done, hostility that it should be separate from and in addition to the "regular" salary a professor earns, or hostility to the value of research period. In the events at SLU it has at least partially been suggested that those who engage in scholarship or encourage students to do so are not teaching students what the students need to learn. On the other side, there seems an unspoken assumption that research is not only a legitimate part of what a law school should do, but that it's imperative to engage in a lot of it. These themes resonate with the larger scamlaw narrative so popular at the moment -- and no links here either because I don't want to promote that narrative -- which has us "stealing" from students for our own selfish desires, or the more measured critiques by people who call our attention to the problems with the current "business model" of the law school. 

Absent from all of this debate, at least what I have seen of it, is much real progress with the pressing issues that we individually and institutionally are all struggling with. In particular, what it is a law school should be doing for students, what they need to know or have mastered by the time they leave, who else is served who wouldn't be if we didn't exist, and how to structure it all to serve those constituencies. And of course I'm thinking of many of these things in employment terms (like job security and status) as well, considering that it's the kind of workplace I am in and because that's just how I see lots of things (hence the whole Workplace blogging). Increasingly, I'm frustrated by what looks like the same old dualistic tropes -- teaching v. research, skills v. doctrine, doctrine v. theory, academic v. professional school, liberal arts v. technical education, tenured v. contract, at-will v. job security -- without digging into these labels or categories in the first place. And the rhetoric that puts what we do in business terms -- business model, deliverables, outcomes, opportunity costs, returns on investment -- troubles me too because it seems to already presume that some things may not have value unless they are easily commodified.

Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:

Update: Anders Walker (St. Louis), Enter the Practitioner Dean:

Assuming that the practitioner model is in fact workable (or else Duke, NYLS, and Brooklyn wouldn't have done it), how were the transitions handled?  Presumably, the Associate Dean/s play a critical part.  Personally, my sense is that Associate Deans for Research must work quickly to impart the significance of scholarship and the intricacies of US News.  Perhaps most important is to demonstrate how the two interrelate, and what rankings can mean for applications, enrollment, and students' job prospects after graduation.  For example, students in my classes at SLU regularly cite the ranking of a law school as a critical factor both for deciding on which school to attend and also for their career prospects.  Meanwhile, even scholarship that is/appears theoretical can play a significant role in that ranking.  Put simply, scholarship remains one of the best ways of improving an institution's academic peer review score over time, a number that makes up 25% of the US News ranking overall, a factor greater than all others.

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Comments

I used to call LL.M. program's the cash cows of law schools.

J.D.'s are the cash cows of universities (or if stand alone, of itself), and LL.M.'s are cash ELEPHANTS.

There are over 200 ABA-approved law schools. (http://www.americanbar.org/groups/legal_education/resources/aba_approved_law_schools.html)

At least 50, and probably 75 to 100 of those law schools are not needed. Additionally, if you reduced the nuber of schools to 100-125, admissions should be lowered as well. Daytime enrollment, per year should be about 200 (U Penn is still in the 200's, and about a decade ago was close to the 200 mark -- a Top 10 School that could enroll as many students as it wanted because of its rank). In a metropolitan area, no more than 2 schools should offer evening programs and enrollment should be limited to about 25 per year (10% of daytime).

This is not just based on the fact that the maket is supersaturated, it also always for closer mentorship between student and faculty and closer bonds between students. How many students are you going to get to know in a class of 500, 6000 or more during your 1L year vs. 200?

Also, I believe that the current model is flawed:

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the Ruler of the Queen's Navy.

Yes, we used to apprentice to become lawyers, not go to law school. In fact in NY you don't have to law school to take the bar (at least you didn't have to when I did), all you needed was a memeber of the bar that basically said you were fit to do so because he saw you apprentice under him.

Well, law schools came and apprenticeships ended. I do not see anything so dramatic as the end of law school, but perhaps a return the roots of learning law -- by apprenticeship. After 1L, let 2L be a course driven year where the student can study the specialty topics of his or her desire. The 3L year shoul be an apprenticeship that the law schools should be actively assiting its students attain. Tuition for 3L is paid on a course by course basis. If the student takes no couses, the school gets no money. The student however, cen spend several years apprenticing, perhaps in one subject matter with one emploeyer perhaps with multiple employers. The student can change the type of law to apprentice.

Now, the law school says "no money???" I bet dollars to donuts that the student is going to come back and take courses whether it is to further the apprenticeship road he/she is on, or to change gears and get the knowledge needed for a different apprenticeship. So the school will be paid money, just not all during 3L. It will get it over time, and as an apprentice the student can take jobs that perhaps pay less with only 2 years of debt crushing them that they do not need to repay because while they are apprenticing they are still enrolled with the school -- treat the apprenticeship as a full credit load for the semester. Also, being in a non-payment status means that stundents that take post-2L courses may be able to pay them out of pocket. They also may be able to pay down the principal on their loans before they come due.

I know that some of those suggestions represent changes to the game. but they are necessary changes, not gaming the system. having law school last as many as 7 or 8 years with the opportunity to apprentice -- learn skills, network, earn money, have the ability to change your career path, etc. -- makes more sense than throwing them out on the street after 3 years and no job.

Posted by: tax guy | Aug 12, 2012 9:39:10 AM

There is a major difference between "the practitioner model" and the "return to apprenticeship model." The first is based in a fictional world; the second is not. In the second, the student works for real lawyers at real law firms, government offices, non-profits, corporations (in house). The student gets paid. The lawyer mentoring the student is test driving the model knowing that if it doesn't work out after a few years the student can go back to school, take courses or apprentice elsewhere. It is NOT simulations; it is the real world.

I think giving an employer/ee an opportunnity to assess a potential full-time employee/er for a few years rather than for a summer makes much more sense for the employer and the employee. What can anyone trully assess in 2-3 months? Isn't 2-3 years more reasonable (on both ends)?

The traditional model is dead.
The practitioner model seems not to work as it meerly is a spin on the traditional model.
Law school cannot continue to be a hoover vaccum on the pockets of their students (pockets present and future). It is crippling and designed to fail. 200 schools admitting 300 students a year = 60,000 new students a year. 300 students borrowing only 100k = $30M of debt borrowed each year. $30 million

Law schools are just bloated cash cows that can't say no to people who should not be there in the first place. They are addicted to green

Posted by: tax guy | Aug 12, 2012 7:13:28 PM

"troubles me too because it seems to already presume that some things may not have value unless they are easily commodified."

I suggest that the Professor's students place this common self-serving sentiment on the tuition checks that they write to the Professor's law school - at 10% of the demanded tuition price.

Posturing profs like these (probably a majority of the profession) only talk about "priceless" things when they are ones cashing (not writing) the checks.

Disgusting.

Posted by: cas127 | Aug 13, 2012 7:06:39 PM