Steve Sheppard (University of Arkansas School of Law), The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Law School Crisis (reviewing Brian Tamanaha (Washington U.), Failing Law Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2012)):
For this reviewer, Failing Law Schools is frustrating to read, but I do not think my frustration arises, as Tamanaha forecasts, because it challenges me, my salary, or my work ethic (p. 186). Indeed I have the luxury of working at one of the state law schools like those that Tamanaha sees as potential exceptions from his indictments.
Rather, the book is frustrating because of its rhetoric and use of sources. Each chapter seizes one charismatic point (or a few points), presents the point in detail but without essential context, and then draws inferences that the point cannot support....
The recent fall in law school applications may be seen by some critics as proof of the criticism. Yet it may be as likely that the fall results from the fact of the criticism. The alarm for law schools sounded by Failing Law Schools and similar declamations, predicting further decline in applications based on structural problems it identifies, may be explained by a host of factors that are far beyond the scope of the book, not the least being the general decline in law school applications among college graduates since the end of the Vietnam War. Yet there is more reason to believe that the continuing downturn in applications, extending beyond the drop that would be expected from the jobs recovery in 2009-13, is partly attributable to the criticism itself. Certainly, the scamblog movement described in Failing Law Schools has had an effect, and its encouragement by law professors, such as Tamanaha and Paul Campos at Colorado, has given the scambloggers a veneer of accuracy. This is not to say that the effect of the scambloggers has been to open the eyes of law school applicants to their realistic economic opportunities four years in the future. Rather the effect on the perception of college graduates and other would-be applicants is more likely to be cultural than to be one of economic awareness.
The effects on law schools, however, will be both economic and cultural. One might hope that the cultural effects will be constructive engagement, a continued improvement in legal education, that encourages knowledge, skill, professional ethics, and a rich understanding of the role of law and its function in a democracy. Understanding the need to fund legal services, not just legal education, would be a part of that engagement. It would be a great shame if the result were merely to dumb down law school. The price for that effect would be borne not just by the law students but also by their clients, and ultimately by the country.
Other reviews of Failing Law Schools: