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Monday, March 24, 2014

The State of Legal Education: Are Law Profs Really to Blame?

The Legal Watchdog:  The State of Legal Education: Are Law Profs Really to Blame?, by Michael D. Cicchini:

I enjoy a good professor-bashing blog post as much as the next guy—especially when the targeted profs have said, done, or written silly things.  But today, many people like to blame law profs for the abysmal state of legal education—especially graduates’ staggering debt loads and inability to perform even basic legal tasks.  This blame comes in many forms, but a common criticism is that profs earn way too much money for publishing useless law review articles and, to compound the problem, their schools spend even more money shipping them to pricey, tuition-funded conferences to present their articles to other profs.  This, in turn, drives up the price of legal education and, worse yet, marginalizes (or displaces) real training in legal practice and legal theory.  As it turns out, however, the current state of affairs in legal academia is exactly what students have (unwittingly) asked for.

U.S. News 2015First, students are obsessed with the US News rankings of law schools. ...

Second, the single biggest factor in the US News rankings on which students rely is law professor rankings of the law schools. ...

Third, schools want students, and students have tunnel vision for the US News rankings, so how do you think State University Law School (or Small Private University Law School) will try to get its ranking up?  That’s right: the most bang for the buck is to spend money impressing law profs at other schools. ...

Fourth, how does the Dean of State U. go about impressing profs at other schools?  ... The way to win these profs over (thereby improving survey responses and thereby increasing US News rank) is to hire profs just like them—that is, profs who have the same academic backgrounds and who want to publish articles that “are of great interest to the academic[s] that wrote [them], but [aren't] of much help to the bar”—and then let them impress the hell out of each other. ...

[B]y relying on the US News rankings, students have gotten exactly what they’ve (unwittingly) asked for.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2014/03/the-state.html

Law School Rankings, Legal Education | Permalink

Comments

"As it turns out, however, the current state of affairs in legal academia is exactly what students have (unwittingly) asked for."

Funny, I never asked for professors who had no experience practicing law, and in an increasing number of cases, never attended law school. But I would ask for professors who know better than to end a sentence in a preposition, even if it is just a blog post. And I would say that employers and colleges are equally to blame for their laser-like focus on US News. The head of the university of my alma mater got a $2 million bonus for getting the university into the Top 50 of US News, and their IRS 990 says as much in their justification for that shocking amount of money (meanwhile, undergrad tuition rocketed from $17k in 2002 to $43k in 2013).

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 24, 2014 11:08:13 AM

i'm not buying it. US News is a red herring. Suffolk costs just as much as Harvard.

Posted by: Jojo | Mar 24, 2014 11:08:32 AM

People can bash the law professors and many of the criticisms are entirely fair even if somewhat misdirected. But the underlying causative factor is that the law schools never got their acts together to condemn and attack the US News rankings that have so many flaws it is almost beyond reasoning. For many of the schools it was to their advantage to be ranked in "The First Tier" and so as long as the system worked in their favor they weren't about to reject it. For various other schools it provided the opportunity to scam and manipulate the submitted data in ways that seemed to create an upward movement. But it also froze many otherwise quite positive law schools in positions that had nothing to do with actual educational quality but were treated as such and provided little or no chance to make a counter argument. In many instances law faculty are conservative (not politically of course) in the sense that they automatically resist change either because it is different or because it would require adaptation in what they want to do. The AALS and ABA should have fought aggressively against US News but really did nothing. It was obvious very early that the rankings were unfair, dishonest, being manipulated and had little or nothing to do with quality, but law faculty and deans allowed the monster to grow without challenge of consequence or without creating an alternative system. So, yes, it has been law faculty who are to blame in many ways along with AALS, the ABA and law school administrations. I raised the dangers of the US News rankings with my faculty 15 years ago at least and the response was that I was off base because how could some magazine's rankings actually impact on law schools? It was actually obvious very early and now it dominates the system to the extent that choices are actually made based on an idiotic "measuring stick" that doesn't gauge quality. Really incredible.

Posted by: David | Mar 24, 2014 5:25:49 PM

Although I dislike professor-bashing as much as the next professor, the buck must stop here. Law schools are, to a significant extent, faculty run. As a matter of ABA rules, major changes must first be approved by the faculty. Faculty selects faculty. Faculty votes on tenure. Faculty often has a major say in the appointment of the dean.

We cannot demand a voice and then disavow responsibility. In honesty, many of us are as obsessed by US News as our students. We hire junior faculty with only minimal experience in the practice of law -- the craft we purport to teach. We jump at lateral offers from higher-ranked schools.

Much as I appreciate Mr. Cicchini's kind defense, therefore, I cannot take refuge behind it. If legal education is going to reform itself, professors must take the lead. If they fail to do so, they will lose their place at the table.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Mar 25, 2014 6:04:42 AM

Absolutely agree with Ted Seto on every point. "Faculty governance" means "faculty accountability" and "faculty control". With power goes responsibility.

Posted by: David | Mar 25, 2014 6:47:02 AM

The articles point simply doesn't follow. The argument is, essentially, students like US News Rankings, Law Profs affect the US news ranking, Law Schools need students and therefore hire faculty and fund projects with the rankings in mind. That last connection fails because, up until the very recent past, schools had no problem recruiting students regardless of USN&R ranking and class sizes were uniformly increasing across all law schools. In other words, the need for students wasn't driving anything, the desire for a prestigious ranking by faculty was for its own sake.

Posted by: Third Tier | Mar 25, 2014 8:58:26 AM

@Unemployed Northeastern: "Funny, I never asked for professors who had no experience practicing law, and in an increasing number of cases, never attended law school."

DId you attend a law school (Northeastern?) whose faculty was filled with professors who had never practiced? If so, why? Why did you choose that law school over a law school that had professors who had extensive practice experience? There are schools where the average practice experience is in the double digits of years. Why didn't you attend one of them? I suspect the answer is exactly the author's point.

Posted by: ATLprof | Mar 25, 2014 12:56:25 PM

@Third Tier: "That last connection fails because, up until the very recent past, schools had no problem recruiting students regardless of USN&R ranking and class sizes were uniformly increasing across all law schools."

I don't think that is correct. Law schools had no problem filling seats, but that's not what they were doing. They were trying to fill seats with students with higher numbers (so their rankings would improve among other things) and there was always competition there.

Posted by: ATLprof | Mar 25, 2014 12:58:42 PM

@Unemployed Northeastern: To be clear, I would not blame a student for choosing a higher ranked school. It is a rational choice when you examine what graduating from a higher ranked school does to employment opportunities. But that it is a rational choice does not change the effect it has - as described by the author.

Posted by: ATLprof | Mar 25, 2014 1:18:28 PM

@ATLProf,

Until I was already in law school, it never occurred to me that a graduate school could be so intellectually and pedagogically vacant as to hire a bunch of neophytes to teach students that which they don't know themselves. I imagine if you polled the public on how long they think the average law professor worked in the public/government/NPO sectors, they would give you the same answer. And as far as I know, none of the nine law schools in Massachusetts give much though to experienced applicants for law professorships.

I'd love to hear about the law school(s) where the MEDIAN practice experience for prawfs is in the two-figures. What do those schools cost, pray tell, and what percentage of their graduates found legal work such that they didn't have to enroll in the already-endangered soft default measures of IBR, PAYE, or PSLF?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Mar 25, 2014 1:44:27 PM