Paul L. Caron

Friday, December 21, 2018

Most Law Schools Are Good For Democracy

Following up on Tuesday's post, Law Schools Are Bad For Democracy:  Chronicle of Higher Education, Most Law Schools Are Good for Democracy, by Margaret Raymond (Dean, Wisconsin):

I read with interest Samuel Moyn’s Law Schools Are Bad for Democracy (The Chronicle Review, December 16). Moyn teaches at Yale Law School, and he’s very critical of what happens there; his subtitle (“They whitewash the grubby scramble for power”) says it all. His critique, while heartfelt, is not, as he himself acknowledges, particularly new; he suggests that gifted young people enter law school hungry for social justice, but, in the end, they sell out, “enrolling in a trade school to solve other people’s legal problems for (often tremendous) pay.”

Perhaps Moyn would enjoy a stint at one of the many law schools that, across this country, already do what he suggests. Our students here at the University of Wisconsin Law School are not queued up to take their preordained place in an elite hierarchy. They come here to prepare to excel at the practice of law. Schools like ours provide law students with the tools to serve clients and drive social change, to resist elite power as well as to embrace it. Students in our clinics do not engage in “increasingly routine clinical self-assignments,” but meet demanding, intellectually and legally challenging client needs with energy, passion and commitment. Whether pursuing a remedy for a wrongfully convicted inmate, helping secure intellectual property protection for a new biomedical device, or helping an undocumented immigrant understand the legal context of an asylum claim, our students seek to build the abilities they need to seek justice for their clients, and to understand the ecosystem in which those skills are brought to bear. After a vigorous immersion in the reality of the legal system, they are ready to engage the system and also to challenge it. They are neither naïve nor resigned to “endlessly reproduce elite ascendancy.” ...

Our nation’s public law schools and the universities that surround us are engines of access, opportunity, and social transformation. We are proud of our graduates and the clients and communities they serve. And we’re hopeful that, as graduates of great public universities, they will make the change they want to see in the world. We will all be better for it.

Chronicle of Higher Education, A Law School That Fuels Democracy, by Martha S. Jones (Johns Hopkins):

need not draw upon lessons from history to discover that not all law school’s suffer from the anemic vision that he believes compromises Yale Law School. Moyn could today look to the example of CUNY School of Law, where, since 1983, legal education has been producing talented and committed public interest lawyers, a reflection of the school’s motto: “Law in the Service of Human Needs.”

Law, whose founding Dean Charles Halpern left Yale Law School to launch this experiment, embodies the alternative approach to legal education for which Moyn pines. The widely-praised curriculum combines training in legal theory, skills, and ethics. It is consistently ranked among the nation’s top-ten law schools for its clinical education program. It is unrivaled in its training and placement of public interest practitioners. CUNY Law is not at all an institution by or for the elite: Both its faculty and student body are diverse, many coming directly out of the communities they expect to serve as lawyers.

I am a member of the CUNY School of Law class of 1987, and I credit my legal education there with having provided me an intellectual and ethical foundation. My class is representative of what it looks like to have trained lawyers in the service of human needs. We direct the ACLU of Michigan and the Innocence Project. We are judges, public defenders, and prosecutors. We head our own public interest law firms. Among us are teachers, social workers, and artists. We sit on city councils and town boards, and even host weekly radio programs. Law training need not be a straight-jacket that serves the powerful. It can also be a foundation upon which lawyers build their capacities to be practitioners, activists, cultural workers, and citizens.

Steve Lubet (Northwestern), Yale's Samuel Moyn Does Not Understand Legal Clinics [UPDATED With Moyn's Responses to Tweets]:

Like too many non-clinical law professors, Moyn seems to disdain the work of clinicians, writing “in their increasingly routine clinical self-assignments, students are taught that systemic reform comes, if at all, through seeking friendly judges who will not merely reproduce injustice in an otherwise hostile environment.” He thus appears rather unaware of the actual work in clinics, much less the life-long impact that clinical education has on many students. I began my law school career in Northwestern’s clinic, although I transitioned to the research faculty in the late 1980s. Moyn, however, seems never to have practiced law in any setting (judging from his Yale bio and Wikipedia page).

There is considerable value in much of Moyn’s critique. Law schools, as he says, place too much emphasis on thinking “about the law from the perspective of the judiciary,” and may well need “to pivot away from judicially oriented activism to make room for a new kind of engagement with the public.” Law schools would also benefit from becoming “idea factories for legislative reform,” but that is something legal clinics – including, for example, Northwestern’s Children and Family Justice Center – have been doing for decades.

Sure, law schools exploit their clinics by touting public service accomplishments while more quietly serving the needs of large, private law firms. Clinical teachers at many schools are underpaid and afforded far less job security than research faculty, which Moyn does not mention.

Moyn may believe that he has a better plan for changing the world, and perhaps he does. But his ultimate goal of demystifying “law’s disservice to the interests of ordinary people” is actually being achieved in legal clinics every day. ...

I would like to give Moyn the benefit of the doubt, and I am sure he has good intentions, but a straight up apology would have carried a lot more weight. As is, his responses are unsatisfactory. For example, clinics are more than a "passing example" in his article; clinics are the only curricular example. Comparable critiques about conscience grappling could be made about legal history classes (his field) or law and economics (a dominant discipline), but instead he focused on one of the most vulnerable programs at the law school. Nor did he devote only "two grafs" to clinics. I quoted from three paragraphs, and there were other references (implicit and explicit) as well. I guess it could be said that the piece was "about the psychological/spiritual functions of clinics for students," if by that he means alibis, grubby scrambles, and laundering injustice -- all of which are insulting and inaccurate.

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I must have missed something. I thought the purpose of law school was to train lawyers to solve other people's legal problems. And yes, when providing the professional service of solving other people's legal problems, the vast majority of those young, trained lawyers charge fees.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Dec 23, 2018 6:29:54 PM

But democracy isn't always good. Liberty and democracy go hand in hand, but only so far. Democracies can become oppressive and tyrannical, stomping all over the faces of individuals. Law schools should be more concerned with liberty. At least in this country.

Posted by: ruralcounsel | Dec 21, 2018 11:21:25 AM


Posted by: Mike Livingston | Dec 21, 2018 4:17:42 AM