Obviously, there has been a lot of discussion about re-forming law schools on this blog, including making law school last 2 years instead of 3 years, changing what law school faculty do, and thinking about alternative sources of funding for legal education. Much of this discussion is pie-in-the-sky-like. And that is not necessarily bad. We need dreamers, rule-breakers, utopianists, etc. in our midst to think the unthinkable and to say the unsayable.
In this post, however, I’d have us contemplate the unthinkable in a less imaginative way. Put another way, I’m interested in your thoughts about what (if anything) has become so ‘baked in’ to the idea of what it means for there to be a ‘law school,’ that that thing couldn’t be removed without causing us to reconsider whether we have a Law School—yes, in capital letters—remaining.
For example, I’m guessing that many readers of this post—whether advocates or critics of the idea—could contemplate a 2-year law school degree. 3 (or more) years might be ideal to some readers, but they would still consider a 2-year legal education program similar enough to what we currently have in the U.S. to consider the institution offering it a ‘law school’ offering a ‘law school degree’ (or, a J.D. more specifically).
I’m also guessing that most readers of this post would consider a school that completely replaced its 2L and 3L curriculums with courses focused on topics popular in the disciplines of philosophy, anthropology, history, political science, and economics—I’m not talking about ‘Law &’ courses here, but straight-up continental philosophy courses, or courses in advanced econometrics, for example—would not consider this a ‘law school.’ Maybe it would be a ‘law and public policy’ school, or maybe it would be considered to be a school offering legal-themed M.A. degrees in the above disciplines, but it would not be what most people consider a Law School.
But what about other stuff? Could a law school close down its legal library and export its collection across the quad to the main university library and still be considered a ‘school’ much less a ‘law school’? What changes have accrued to the conditions of employment for law school professors over the past decades that now seem irreversible? For example, could one abolish tenure and still have a ‘professor’ much less a ‘law school professor’? Could one change the rules and grant tenure to people who are great teachers but do not publish and consider that person a ‘professor’ (as opposed to, say, a tenured ‘instructor’).
This is not really a post about what is possible, but what seems especially impossible to change in our present moment with our accumulated histories and our cultural embedded-ness. I realize there is a paradox in my overall question here, but I’m curious as to what people generate in response.
NB: Anonymous comments are welcome but comments that do not respond to the substance of this post will most likely be deleted.