Following up on my previous posts on the closure of Whittier Law School (links below): Jill Switzer (J.D. 1976, Whittier; Blogger, Old Lady Lawyer), Requiem For My Law School:
I will leave it to others to report, examine, and dissect the upcoming demise aka closing of Whittier Law School.
This is a very personal memorial to a school that had really died some years ago, although it didn’t know it then.
I graduated as a member of Whittier’s first day class way back in dinosaur days in 1976. The graduating first day class had 50 students in it, as the school had flunked out two thirds of the class that it didn’t think could pass the California Bar exam. (“Look to the left, look to the right; two thirds of you won’t be here at graduation.”) 49 out of the remaining 50 of us passed the July 1976 bar exam on the first try. The one who had to retake it in February, 1977 passed then, and so, we had a 100 percent (not a typo) bar passage rate within a year after graduation. ...
The philosophy of Beverly College of Law was to provide legal educations for those working adults who wanted to change careers. While others may sniff on the focus of “teaching to the bar,” the fact remains that when Beverly Rubens and others were in charge, the school enjoyed enviable bar passage rates every year. I’ll stipulate that such didn’t translate into the ability to get jobs. Nope, the caste system was alive and well then, as it is now, and so no one wanted to hire anyone from Beverly, then Whittier.
We all made our own ways, without any help from anyone, thank you. We became prosecutors, public defenders, attorneys in private practice, be it in small firms or solos. We became judges, appellate justices, corporate counsel, and the whole panoply of other kinds of careers that law degrees can prepare you for. Some of my classmates were very entrepreneurial, going out on their own from Day 1, as it was all they ever wanted. Others established niche practices still extant. ...
There are many who disparage the practical approach to teaching law students not only the substantive law, but also how to prepare and pass the bar exam. Our instructors were almost all practicing attorneys, whose love of teaching prompted them into adjunct academia. They told us about how this concept or that concept operated in the real world, not in the rarefied academic world. They had real world examples and dilemmas to share with us, to teach us. While casebooks and hornbooks may present black letter law, the school’s philosophy was that practicing law was anything but black letter, that we all ought to learn that sooner, rather than later, and learn how to confront issues that arose daily in practice. It wasn’t on the job training, but the professors’ practical, real-life experiences were invaluable learning lessons.
So many legal educators, lawyers and others disparage the kind of education that we received back in those dinosaur days at an upstart little law school that wasn’t at all concerned with pedigree. We learned IRAC and wrote many exams; a passing grade was 73, not 70. The school was rigorous, concerned about turning out future members of the bar who knew the law, could pass the Bar exam, and generate careers for themselves.
The existential question is what is the purpose of a law school? Is it to educate and prepare people for future careers as lawyers? That’s what I thought it was for, but silly me. It seems like law professors spend more time and energy on their own agendas (writing, researching, consulting, and so on) than they spend on teaching. (This not the case just in law school academia.) Shouldn’t teaching be the first priority?
If you’ve never read Brian Tamanaha’s blistering indictment of law school education, Failing Law Schools (affiliate link), then you should. The Washington University law professor justifiably rips apart legal education for failing to do what it’s charged with doing. As I’ve said before, a revolution in legal education is overdue.
The appalling disregard for educating law students and getting them ready for practice is shameful. Students are on their own. As I saw Whittier’s bar results drop over the decades, I cringed and mourned the death of the kind of education I had received.
Whittier College made a business decision. Some think that it abandoned its law school by pulling the plug after looking at recent lousy bar results and equally lousy post bar employment rates. I think the law school abandoned its students.
Prior TaxProf Blog coverage:
- Whittier Law School To Close, Will Not Admit A 1L Class This Fall (Apr. 19, 2017)
- Tenured Faculty Sue To Stop Closure Of Whittier Law School (Apr. 20, 2017)
- Experts: Whittier Law School’s Collapse Won’t Be The Last (Apr. 20, 2017)
- Faculty Weighs Legal Options To Block Closure Of Whittier Law School After Court Rejects TRO; Board Pulled Plug With Only 40 Students Expected In Fall 2017 1L Class, Down 70% From 2016 (And 87% From 2010) (Apr. 21, 2017)
- 100 Students Protest Closure Of Whittier Law School (Apr. 22, 2017)
- Steve Diamond (Santa Clara), Whittier's Decision To Close Its Law School Violates AAUP Tenure Protections, Harms Diversity, And Ignores The Rebounding Legal Employment Market (Apr. 23, 2017)
- Robert Anderson (Pepperdine), Whittier Law School Closing Is Another Sad Story Of Generational Wealth Shifting, With Millennial Students Incurring Huge Debts To Subsidize Baby Boomer Faculty Sinecures (Apr. 24, 2017)
- Temperature Rises In Debate Over Closure Of Whittier Law School; Are 5-25 Law Schools In A 'Death Spiral' Leading To Closure Over The Next Five Years? (Apr. 25, 2017)