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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Is Bill Henderson 'Burning Through His Reputational Capital'?

PrawfsBlawg:  Bill Henderson Is Burning Through His Reputational Capital, by Matt Bodie (St. Louis):

As the person who brought the bimodal salary distribution to the legal masses, Bill Henderson has earned a substantial amount of respect from academics, practicing attorneys, and law students. His early warnings about the dire job market and its effect on law schools, students, and recent alums have proven correct. His academic research on the future of law firms, the plight of junior associates, and the use of LSAT scores has moved the ball forward in these areas and has often challenged the conventional wisdom. Henderson is not afraid of being a prophet, even when the people reject the prophecy. ... This year, however, Henderson's tone has begun to change. ...

Henderson has taken a "double-down" strategy to his predictions of institutional collapse. In an op-ed published by the National Law Journal, he argues that massive layoffs would not be nearly enough -- instead, schools need to close. Framing his piece as a "letter" to a hypothetical university president, Henderson essentially argues that law schools have two choices: close or adopt a radical new pedagogical agenda. ...

Henderson, like other reformers ("rebels"), has a strong perspective not only on the problems faced by legal education but also on the proper solutions.  His solution to the law school crisis -- one that involves a substantial and largely unexplored change to legal pedagogy -- may be the answer to the field's longer-term problems.  But I fear that instead of reporting on the crisis, Henderson is now using it to try to leverage a few shocked university presidents into adopting his methods.  In the process of drumming up panic with wild-eyed claims and the specter of closures, Henderson risks squandering a pile of reputational capital that only a few legal academics have managed to achieve in the first place.

The Legal Whiteboard:  A Serious Debate over the Problems Facing Law Schools, by Bill Henderson (Indiana):

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio during the 60s, 70s, 80s and witnessed the slowness of the region to accept that its industrial glory days were behind it.  All people, including really smart people, have a hard time accepting large-scale institutional change--emotion obscures a reasoned analysis of the facts.  This is why Who Moved by Cheese, My Iceberg is Melting, and other change management classics are written as fables.  And yes, I see the same slowness to respond within the legal academy.  That slowness has costs.  ..

Truth be told, I probably did risk some reputational capital writing the "Calculus of University President."  But I am deeply worried about the future of legal education, and using the history of other industries as a guide, we are likely to underestimate the realities of the emerging legal landscape.  See Richard Susskind, Tomorrow's Lawyers (discusing this future in intricate detail). So why not risk some of my reputational capital?  I will make some people, like Matt, angry, but I might spur others to actions sooner rather than later.  So be it.  The purpose of tenure is to facilitate these judgment calls.  I can live with that.

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Comments

When most institutions cannot generate sufficient revenue to cover their fixed costs, they are forced to shut down. This is very normal. Henderson's analysis about the current/near future balance sheets at law schools is either right or wrong, but the consequences he predicts if schools see a large decrease in revenue are sound. Why don't people attack his data hypotheticals, and make a case that schools can adequately balance the budget?

The only problem I have with Henderson is that he links law school mission reform to law school economic viability. Both are important issues, but one has nothing to do with the other.

Posted by: JM | May 30, 2013 6:27:39 AM

Bill Henderson grew up in the midwest and his worldview never left it. If the midwest turned into the rust belt, then everything else will too!

What could possibly be a better parallel for researching case law than tightening a bolt on an assembly line!

The legal profession is not the auto manufacturing industry. The legal profession is full of the clever people who turned the midwest *into* the rust belt by negotiating free trade agreements and writing "right to work" laws.

Posted by: Anon | May 30, 2013 7:48:43 AM

"When most institutions cannot generate sufficient revenue to cover their fixed costs, they are forced to shut down."

When most institutions can't generate sufficient revenue, they cut costs or reorganize. Liquidation is exceptionally rare.

In trying times, costs that once seemed fixed--union contracts, leases--have a way of becoming variable.

Posted by: Anon | May 30, 2013 8:25:18 AM

"What could possibly be a better parallel for researching case law than tightening a bolt on an assembly line?"

Let's see...

- Can researching case law be outsourced as assembly lines have been? Yes. Thanks, ABA!

- Is researching case law currently being outsourced to LPO's and non-lawyer personnel both at home and overseas? Yes.

- Why? Because it can, and it is ultimately fungible, commoditized work - no different than a factory.

- Can researching case law ultimately be automated by the likes of predictive algorithms and AI suites like IBM's Watson? Yes.

- Will it? Yes - IBM's GC has explicitly said on several occasions that one of the first commercial applications of Watson will be legal research.

- Are American courts already allowing for computer-driven discovery work? Yes.

- Will persistent troll Anon ever be able to argue his/her (but probably his) way out of a paper bag? Seems unlikely.

Posted by: Unemployed_Northeastern | May 30, 2013 9:14:49 AM

"The legal profession is not the auto manufacturing industry. The legal profession is full of the clever people who turned the midwest *into* the rust belt by negotiating free trade agreements and writing "right to work" laws. "

Hahaha. Legal academia is filled with indifferent professors who have allowed administrative costs to expand to an unsustainable level, thereby jeopardizing their institution's entire existence, which heretofore was never a concern. Law Profs and Administrators have screwed it all up without facing any of the inherent obstacles that have caused the demise of most industries.

Posted by: JM | May 30, 2013 9:52:14 AM

"When most institutions can't generate sufficient revenue, they cut costs or reorganize. Liquidation is exceptionally rare.

In trying times, costs that once seemed fixed--union contracts, leases--have a way of becoming variable."

That's what makes legal academia unique. They haven't even really shown signs of taking the INTERMEDIARY STEPS to keep themselves afloat. I think many will go straight from extreme bloat to total liquidation.

Why would law schools not take serious measures to cut costs, you ask? My humble theory is that the blame game is too complicated in academia. Too many of the individuals that would have the ability to exercise power (i.e., long-standing, popular, nationally recognized tenured professors (i.e. Prof. Caron) are mostly nice guys with a liberal bent that have a hard time marking their colleauges to market in an economically honest manner. The only time they will show their fangs is when their butt is on the line. Otherwise, having tenure, they'd like to believe that everything is working out for everyone.

Posted by: JM | May 30, 2013 10:03:37 AM

Henderson's statement is the type of vague prediction that can really not be wrong. Is he talking about 2 schools shutting down, or 60? I don't think people would be surprised to see two schools shut down. They would be surprised to see 60 shut down. If either come to pass, he will claim to be correct.

It is kind of like going to a fortune teller who makes a vague prediction that you will meet someone and something interesting will happen.

Posted by: Jasper | May 30, 2013 11:14:56 AM