Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Posner on Legal Education: Tenure, Socratic Method, Con Law in the First Year, Balance Between Scholarship and Teaching

PosnerFollowing up on my previous post, Crowd-Sourced Interview of Judge Richard Posner: Ronald K.L. Collins (University of Washington), On Legal Education & Legal Scholarship — More Questions for Judge Posner:

Question: What do you think is the single greatest shortcoming of legal education in America today?

Posner: There are several shortcomings; I don’t know how to rank them.

  1. Legal education is too expensive, in part because law school faculties are too large.
  2. Not enough law professors, especially at the elite law schools, have substantial practical experience as lawyers, and
  3. Law school teaching focuses excessively on legal doctrine, to the exclusion of adequate attention to facts, business practices, science and technology, psychology, judicial mentality and behavior, legal practice, and application of legal principles. ...

Question: In Tagatz v. Marquette University (1988) you noted that tenure “tends to take some of the edge off academic ambition.” What are your views on the current tenure system as it operates in law schools and how, if at all, might you change it?

Posner: Tenure is a form of nonmonetary compensation, hence attractive to universities. The downside is it undermines the work ethic. I don’t know whether the benefits exceed the costs. ...

Question: Is Socratic “cold call” method dying in law schools? Or is it already largely dead? If so, is this a good thing? Your views?

Posner: I think the traditional Socratic method was great. It created a form of active learning very valuable to the students. I regret its decline. ...

Question: Do you think constitutional law should be taught in the first year? If so, why? If not, why not?

Posner:  Absolutely not. It’s a terrible field, dreadfully politicized. ...

Question: Today considerable emphasis continues to be placed on legal scholarship, which consists mainly of publishing in law journals. That emphasis affects everything from salaries to tenure to upward mobility. What is your take on that? Do you find it problematic in any real way?

Posner: I would like to see considerably more emphasis on teaching, which would incidentally enable reductions in the size of law school faculties and hence in the cost of a legal education. Most published legal scholarship is ephemeral, especially in constitutional law, an analytically weak and excessively politicized field.

Legal Education | Permalink


Wow. Five nails. Five hammer strokes. Five direct hits. I imagine none of these is popular with the professoriate. Every now and then a conservative says something I agree with.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Dec 9, 2014 10:53:46 AM