TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Hoffman:  Law Schools Should Spend Less Time Perseverating On Our Decline And More Time Trumpeting What We Do Well

In response to my post yesterday on Declining Law School Applications And Entering Credentials: Responding With Pivot Pedagogy, Dave Hoffman (Pennsylvania) tweeted:

Tweet

Here is part of Dave's great 2014 post:  

[L]aw schools (and congregations) seek to evolve without losing some core component of their identity. For synagogues, the question boils down to how – and how much – to welcome non-jews to the pews. Law Schools, similarly, now ask “who do we want to teach.”

Some – like Penn State – increasingly make foreign LLMs a key constituency, rather than a tolerated budgetary crutch. Other schools compete in the increasing crowded online education/certification market for domestic lawyers, or paralegals.  ... [I]t’s fair to ask if law schools are or could be generally good at teaching non-JD students.

And let’s say that law schools actually are good at teaching their new students — or at least better than the alternatives, which is highly probable. There’s still something faintly defensive and catastrophic about the enterprise. If law schools say: “we have to teach new skills to new people,” they in effect admit “the old skills are no longer particularly valuable.” But that position is profoundly stupid, not to mention self-defeating. It reinforces a prevailing narrative about law schools – they are broke, and need fixing. The reason that law schools are in trouble today is that every single person going to law school is being told by everyone who loves them not to go. That’s not entirely a reflection of the projected future employability of members of the bar in 2025 (when the robots take over). It’s also a current gestalt cultural judgment: legal education doesn’t deliver the value it ought to.  Whose at fault for that? In part, law schools, which, everywhere you look, remind you with new, practice-ready/real-world/constantly innovating slogans,that they are slightly ashamed of what they’ve always done.

But, as the great ad man put it, if you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation. Law Schools (and synagogues) should spend less time justifying and perseverating on their decline, and more time trumpeting what they do well – much better than any alternative out there.  What’s that? As one of my colleagues keeps on hammering at me, we’re really good at three things.  Maybe they are the only things we’re good at – everything else is just a loss-leader, including legal scholarship.

  1. Teaching students how to read cases with the requisite degree of care.
  2. We prepare students for a very hard, demanding, job which rewards sitzfleisch more than any other personality trait.
  3. We teach judgment in the only way it can be taught: by watching error.

These three are skills which will continue to matter in the new economy, and they matter in practice today. Law schools have fallen into a trap of being embarrassed by their own strengths — they are about to roll over on learning outcomes, which will drive the value of traits like judgment-recognition out the window; they are embracing “practice-ready skills” like interviewing and drafting, while downplaying or ignoring the value of old-fashioned appellate case briefing; and no one, ever, wants to simply come out and say that law school is hard work because lawyering is harder.

We ought to be advertising what we’re good at, instead of apologizing for it.

http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2017/06/hoffmanlaw-schools-should-spend-less-time-perseverating-on-our-decline-and-more-time-trumpeting-what.html

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Comments

This is about as relevant as someone from Penn's English department telling all English majors across the country to relax because they can always work for McKinsey or Goldman Sachs. Like things are not always alike, and the normative outcomes and overall desirability bestowed upon the likes of Penn Law grads are not representative of those for the overwhelming majority of law school grads. Similarly, just because consultancies and banks hire liberal arts graduates from the *good* Ivy League schools* does not mean that privilege is extended to the other 3,000 colleges and universities out there.

“It’s also a current gestalt cultural judgment: legal education doesn’t deliver the value it ought to. Whose at fault for that?”

Whose fault is it for pumping out 15,000 to 20,000 more law school graduates per year than there are legal jobs for them? Hint: it rhymes with “flaw school.”

“Teaching students how to read cases with the requisite degree of care.”

And absolutely no one in the world gives a flying **** about this beyond the world of legal employers, and again law schools manufacture far more graduates than there are jobs available.

“We prepare students for a very hard, demanding, job which rewards sitzfleisch more than any other personality trait.”

If only law school grads learned any practical skills beyond reading appellate cases, this might mean something in the broader job market. But they don’t, so it doesn’t. Netflix and Google aren’t going to hire law school grads to work 80 hour weeks even though they have excellent sitzfleisch; that’s because, you know, law school doesn’t teach you how to code, so you are utterly useless to such employers.

“We teach judgment in the only way it can be taught: by watching error.”

What? You teach by giving one final exam per class that counts for 100% of the grade, and as a general rule don’t let students see the graded finals after the fact. Give me a break.

“These three are skills which will continue to matter in the new economy, and they matter in practice today”

1) Again, those skills don’t exist in a vacuum. No one cares if you can sit in a chair all day if you aren’t qualified for the job (and no, a JD is not an acceptable substitute for a MBA, STEM degree, or much else in the eyes of employers)
2) They only matter in practice if you are one of the 5 or 6 in 10 graduates to win the game of law job musical chairs. It’s amazing how blind this whole op-ed is to the reality that nearly half of law school graduates NEVER END UP IN THE LEGAL PROFESSION, which rather renders the advice given in the op-ed useless.

*See, for instance, “Brown and Cornell Are Second-Tier” at the Chronicle of Higher Education

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jun 27, 2017 11:19:45 PM

Here's the problem: there are too many lawyers and too many law graduates. Changing the pedagogy or doubling down on what law schools traditionally teach or any of the other solutions that are -- surprise! -- designed to keep the current level of law school faculty employed do not address that problem. What has to happen is about half the law schools need to close. Not one or two for profit schools, but half the overall number of law schools. The demand simply isn't there to support the supply. Until that happens, the market won't get better, high-scoring potential applicants will continue to dwindle, and more and more law professors will continue to write articles and blog posts announcing the next great innovation or return to tradition that will -- surprise! -- protect their jobs.

Close down half the law schools. ASAP. That will fix the problem.

Posted by: Evergreen Dissident | Jun 28, 2017 6:05:57 PM