In my previous two posts on the ‘2 v. 3' debate (see here and here), I have tried to suggest that participants in this debate need to give more consideration to how law schools—along with undergraduate institutions or, perhaps, despite undergraduate institutions—contribute to a liberal arts education. In this post, I’d like to continue to explore the pedagogical inter-relationships between undergraduate (liberal artsy) education and legal education, but from a somewhat different perspective. This perspective is one that relies less on an image of impoverished undergraduate institutions ‘dumping’ their ill-prepared graduates on law schools and, instead, on empowered undergraduate institutions able to dictate what law schools teach and how they teach it.
Indeed, in an era of widespread plummets in law school enrollments and sudden reversals in how law schools and universities fiscally relate—with some universities (both high- and low-profile) finding themselves in the surprising role of subsidizing their law schools—questions of fiscal reciprocity will likely become intertwined with questions of pedagogical and mission reciprocity. Consider the perspective of a hypothetical university administrator—or a hypothetical Arts & Sciences faculty—that now sees the university’s law school as no longer a money-maker whose many quirks can be tolerated, but instead as an institutional deadbeat which must be reformed from top to bottom. If a university can be analogized to the contemporary European Union, its law school might be (former boom/now unemployed) Spain. (NB: I’m sure the comments to this post will correct me on this analogy!)
Perhaps unwilling to close the law school, the urge nonetheless might be to leverage its resources (e.g. its tuition dollars, its buildings, its faculty) towards bolstering the undergraduate liberal arts programs—where, perhaps, all the money is now being made. (This, of course, depends on the research grant and endowment profile of the university.) Indeed, contrary to how the ‘2 v. 3’ debate is often structured—namely, as one concerning how law schools, responsive to legal employment markets, should choose to structure themselves—the driving force in this debate may soon very likely come from universities themselves. In such a brave new world, ‘strictly doctrinal’ law faculty teaching ‘real law’—I don’t know what these terms mean, but people seem to believe they exist—may be the ones who suffer under the new university-driven, liberal arts regime.
This, admittedly, is all a bit speculative and surely contingent on universities’ diverse histories and politics, but I make these observations nonetheless because I think they intersect with some of the blind-spots in the current debate over legal education. One such blind spot is the location of most law schools in larger university contexts. Indeed, while law schools must be concerned with making sure that their current and recent graduates find remunerative jobs after graduation, the collapse of the traditional legal employment markets has, ironically, made many law schools far less dependent on those legal economies and much more dependent on their own local political economies. In these local (i.e. university) political economies, the priorities of administrators and faculties other than law school administrators and law school faculties loom large.