Paul L. Caron
Dean




Monday, May 7, 2012

Bowman: Musings on Legal Education

Frank Bowman (Missouri-Columbia), An Opening Musing on Legal Education:

I’ve been thinking a good deal about the structure of American legal education lately. ... Here, in short form suitable for the blogosphere, are some of my tentative conclusions:

  1. So long as US News rankings remain the primary indicator of institutional quality in the eyes of student consumers, the top 20 or perhaps 30 law schools are at liberty to change or stand pat, as suits them. ... The raw intellectual talent of their graduates (regardless of how well or badly they were educated) will guarantee employment of those graduates by the most elite employers. And so the cycle will continue, forever and ever. Amen.
  2. This model cannot work for the rest of us. In a generally stagnant economy with a legal market offering fewer jobs at less pay, we cannot continue to compete with each other in what amounts to an endless race to drive up per-student costs. ...
  3. Exacerbating the stress on non-elite institutions is the emerging emphasis on producing more practice-ready graduates. ...

As a conversation starter, let me suggest several changes in our comfortable lives that would make law schools better for our students, and for matter, for the legal communities of which law schools are a part:

  1. Reverse the trend toward competing for faculty by offering ever-lower teaching loads to tenure-track professors. I like working less for more money as well as the next guy, but paying law professors premium salaries in relation to virtually everyone else in the university for teaching 11 or 10 or 9 hours per year is increasingly hard to justify. ...
  2. Rethink the constellation of preferred qualifications for entry-level tenure-track law professors. Right now, we tend to hire young people with high grades from a handful of elite law schools whose work experience consists of a judicial clerkship and a couple of years at a fancy big-city law firm. ...[I]f law schools are reimagined as institutions devoted to producing practice-ready graduates, then the practical inexperience of most of the professoriate becomes a problem. ... 
  3. Reconsider the role of “legal scholarship” in American law schools. An immediate (and horrified) objection to the suggestion of increased teaching loads will surely be the decreased time available for scholarship. And the idea of hiring more tenure-track faculty with real practice experience will surely be rejected by those who view exposure to the law in action as an irremediable pollution of the mind of the young scholar. To which I say, “Fiddlesticks!” There is far too much “legal scholarship” now. Most of it is mediocre or worse. Much of its mediocrity stems from the naivete of inexperienced professorial authors. Even if it were far better than it is, the sheer number of law review articles spewed forth each year means that only the tiniest fraction of them will ever be read by anyone other than their author’s immediate relatives or P&T committees. In saying this, I cast no aspersions on the talents of my academic fellows. To the contrary, law schools are brimming with brilliant minds, but the odd conventions of our trade often force them to opine too soon about subjects of which they know relatively little and to channel much of their creative energies into the writing of law review articles — an exercise customarily equal in practical effect to shouting down a well. As a class, law professors should probably write less, not more. If possible, they should write about subjects they have some practical familiarity with.  If professors come to the academy without such familiarity, they should find ways to gain it.  This means we should hire more people with more real-world experience and encourage those already hired to gain it, not only to assist in producing practice-ready graduates, but in order to improve legal scholarship. And, finally, we should most often write with a conscious view to influencing real-world legal actors.

In short, the move to restructure law schools so their graduates are better prepared to practice presents a fundamental challenge to the existing comfortable world of the tenure-track law professor. I think that is a good thing, one that would make our students and the legal profession a good deal better off. But I imagine others may differ…

https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2012/05/bowman-musings-.html

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Comments

As a graduate circa 1978 of a T-14 law school and a practicing lawyer since graduation, I agee with the professor . . . and david williams.

Posted by: Publius Novus | May 8, 2012 8:32:43 AM

as a graduate circa 1974 of a non elite state law school and a practicing lawyer since graduation I agree with the professor ... more practice oriented classes taught by those who have practiced in the courtroom ... those that can do, those that can't teach

Posted by: david williams | May 7, 2012 5:58:29 PM