Hardly a week seems to go by without a gloom and doom story about the status of legal education in America.
Crippling student debt, a poor job market, and graduates (and employers) claiming that new lawyers have inadequate practical training are among the allegations. It certainly didn’t help that certain institutional members of the academy were caught cheating in their data reporting on entering student qualifications and graduate employment data.
Protectors of the realm (of legal education) have responded in the media and across the blogosphere to argue that this phase is nothing more than media hype, statistical anomaly, or a few misinformed and disgruntled graduates with good websites and social media expertise. However, as I reflect back on my undergraduate economics lessons, it appears that regardless of the cause, the national drop in law school applicants during the current 2013-admission cycle represents the market responding to “new” information and “voting” with their feet and checkbook. Law schools (including deans and faculty) that hide from, or ignore, this response choose to do so at great peril.
Over the next month, as a guest blogger here on The Faculty Lounge, I would like to share some of my law school’s experiences in facing the changes in legal education. I also hope that others will share their ideas and experiences as well.
Perhaps it is best to start the conversation knowing a little more about why my law school is different than yours. Understanding our differences will be an important element of determining whether ideas that have worked at a small, private, non-profit community law can be effectively scaled to work at larger traditional ABA law schools. I think that in many cases the answer is “yes” . . . but of course that is what we will discuss over the course of this month.
Monterey College of Law was founded in 1972 as a community law school accredited by the State Bar of California Committee of Bar Examiners. Although the state accreditation rules mirror many of the ABA requirements, there are significant differences that provide greater flexibility in our faculty selection, curriculum design, admission standards, and finances.
Each of these issues will be discussed, but perhaps the best to generate initial conversation with a board directed at law school faculty . . . is law school faculty.
Here is where my Dean colleagues get envious . . . for 40+ years, MCL has operated with a 100% adjunct faculty and no faculty tenure. Our faculty members are practicing lawyers and judges who teach evening courses in their area of expertise. Despite the fact that faculty are hired each year on one-year contracts, over one-third have taught at MCL for more than 20 years. Approximately one-third have served on the faculty between 5-20 years, and the final third have served on the faculty for less than five years.
I have often said that MCL has the most egalitarian law faculty in the country, because by faculty decision, every professor, regardless of seniority, topic, or course delivery method is paid exactly the same rate.
. . . Nothing like jumping right into the hornet’s nest of questioning whether legal education requires faculty tenure to survive. What I can say is that for more than 40+ years, MCL has provided a quality legal education that has produced local judges, DAs, Public Defenders, and private practitioners who are considered among the most respected in the local legal community. Of course, a 100% non-tenured, adjunct law faculty would not work in a traditional university setting. But doesn’t our experience at least raise a serious question about whether broadly utilizing more adjunct practitioner faculty . . . and recognizing them as academic equals would provide a more cost-effective . . . and perhaps a more substantively effective educational environment for our students?