Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Ronald C. Den Otter (California Polytechnic State University, Department of Political Science) reviews the new book by Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.), Failing Law Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2012) in the Law and Politics Book Review:
This book is bound to upset just about everyone: law school deans and other administrators, law professors, and anyone else who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. As with any exposé, the author is bound to make plenty of enemies. Those who benefit from the status quo will continue to rationalize their own self-interested behavior by minimizing the aforementioned problems or passing the blame. Or they will complain that Tamanaha has been unfair. If anything, he is too easy on law schools. Many of them are taking advantage of the naivety of their students. If that were not enough, students considering law school also may not be receptive to Tamanaha's message because they would rather follow their dreams than be practical. As long as they continue to make poor judgments about attending law school, co-enabled by federal loans and misleading data produced by law schools, the situation will not improve until, perhaps, the bubble bursts.
In any event, they should not kill the messenger. Tamanaha is a well-respected law professor but does not spare anyone, even himself, who bears at least some responsibility for this disturbing state of affairs. Some will see him as an apostate. Others will see him as exaggerating how bad the situation is. Above all, I admire his courage to reveal the truth. As a J.D. myself and a pre-law advisor, it is hard to be candid with students who want to become a lawyer. Who wants to pour cold water on their professional aspirations? Nevertheless, someone needs to impress upon them the possibility that law school may not be the right choice. If the tone of this review seems indignant, it is designed to be. Law schools still have incentives to paint a rosy picture of legal employment when doing so brings in much-needed revenue. Far too many applicants will continue to put their heads in the sand. Tragically, then, Tamanaha is likely to be our Cassandra after all.
Other reviews of Failing Law Schools:
- Jim Chen (Dean, Louisville)
- Chronicle of Higher Education
- Stanley Fish (Florida International)
- Scott Greenfield (here and here)
- Bill Henderson (Indiana)
- Paul Horwitz (Alabama)
- Orin Kerr (George Washington)
- Brian Leiter (Chicago)
- National Law Journal
- Robert Steinbuch (Arkansas-Little Rock)
- Washington Post