I've summed it all up in my finalized list of last year's law school dean searches here. On the whole, schools were very successful in finding new leadership. This year will be particularly intriguing with three excellent southeastern state university deanships open at North Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Update: A reader points out that Florida's deanship is also open. My oversight! That makes FOUR great southeastern state deanships open right now.
In April, Dan wrote about the Florida Coastal dean search where the candidate was asked to leave in the middle of his job talk (under threat of a security escort out of the building) after his presentation turned a critical eye towards the school's admissions standards and bar passage rates.
Now Paul Campos fleshes out some of the details in this Atlantic piece, which he uses to launch a longer discussion about the Infilaw suite of schools and the crisis in higher education generally.
William Mitchell College of Law, in St. Paul, Minnesota, is search for a new leader to replace the outgoing Eric Janus. The position is President and Dean of the free-standing school. Full details of the search are here.
Case Western Reserve Law has announced that its Interim Co-deans - Jessica Berg and Michael Scharf - will continue to lead the law school next year. And apparently the school is in no hurry to conduct a dean search. This will presumably allow things to calm down a bit in Cleveland. Details here.
Congratulations to Matthew J. Wilson of the University of Wyoming, who has just been named dean at the University of Akron. Cribbing now from the Akron press release:
Wilson comes to UA from the University of Wyoming College of Law, where he joined the faculty in 2009. A professor of law, his areas of specialization include international business law, intellectual property law, commercial litigation, international dispute resolution, comparative law and Japanese law. Wilson also has served as associate dean for academic affairs since July 2013, and was the associate dean of student affairs from August 2012 to July 2013.
During his time in Wyoming, Wilson was designated as a distinguished international scholar by Kyung Hee University Law School in Seoul, South Korea. He taught international negotiations, was a guest lecturer for other courses, led symposia and worked with the moot court team.
"I am extremely excited to join The University of Akron family,” says Wilson. “Drawing upon 25 years experience in law, business and academic administration, both here in the United States and in Asia, I look forward to leading the School of Law and contributing to its future success. Akron Law has a rich tradition of educating future lawyers and leaders of society who make valuable contributions to the region, state and country."
The University of Maine School of Law invites inquiries, nominations, and applications for the position of Dean, with an anticipated start date of July 1, 2015. The Law School seeks a Dean with a successful track record of administrative and fiscal leadership experience and one who possesses the vision, energy, and determination to lead the school. The successful candidate will be an innovative, entrepreneurial, and collaborative leader who can bring diverse stakeholders together to enhance and build on the Law School’s existing strengths.
The University of Maine School of Law has a student body of approximately 275, an intentionally small size allowing for extensive faculty-student contact and fostering a strong sense of community. The Law School provides our students with a rigorous and innovative curriculum that blends traditional theory with diverse opportunities for experiential learning. Students work closely with a talented, collegial faculty that is engaged locally and nationally in both public service and high-level scholarship. The Law School is located in Portland, Maine, a city that consistently ranks at or near the top of national lists that evaluate quality of life, and which offers all the cultural and entertainment amenities of any metropolitan area but on a livable scale.
To review the full position description and information about the application process, please visit: http://mainelaw.maine.edu/dean-search/
Recently I offered a post that tried to clarify some important misunderstandings of my earlier June 20 post. The June 20 post had remarked on how the graduate academy in the liberal arts had fallen prey to the same motivated perception to which some in the legal academy have also succumbed—namely, that the tens of thousands of recent law grads unable to get a genuinely law-related job were just not making proper use of their law degrees (or alternatively really were making proper use of their degrees but didn’t know it). The moral of the story, I suppose, is self-interest’s insidious power to quietly overwhelm any bulwark we try to erect against it, not least reason, good intentions, education, and most if not all of the Ten Commandments.
I explained in my last post that there are essentially three ways to think about the relationship between a course of graduate or professional study and any employment the prospective student may obtain after graduation. One way is to posit that, for you, there is no relationship, and you are pursuing the course of study for its own sake without expectation of any practical benefit when you’re done beyond whatever enlightenment the education may confer. This is perfectly valid, but highly personal and idiosyncratic, and not typical of the ordinary person. The second way of thinking about the relationship between professional study and postgraduate employment is that there must be a relationship between the two such that the education is justified by the worldly benefits that it creates. I suggested (based on analysis in my forthcoming empirical study of the job market for new lawyers) that this Practical Justification Test is met if either the postgraduate position requires the degree as a condition of employment, or the course of study provides dramatic and substantial advantages in obtaining or performing the job not more easily obtainable or substitutable (whether in nature or extent) another way. If the job doesn’t meet this test, then there is a quicker or easier way to achieve the same or equivalent benefits, and the course of study wasn’t worth it.
The third way of thinking about the relationship between graduate or professional study and postgraduate employment is, as I put it yesterday, that the course of study transforms you into such a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome that the degree alone routinely opens doors to countless jobs unrelated to the course of study that would otherwise be closed to you, or that you will be so much better at whatever you do that the degree is a Rocket to Success at almost anything. That is a palpably unrealistic description of a law degree (or pretty much any other graduate or professional degree) that nevertheless can be heard among some law deans and admissions officers today.
In response to the post, I received a comment from an admissions officer at a good Midwestern law school that deserves serious consideration and a detailed response. The admissions officer suggests, in addition to the three ways I advanced, “a fourth way to think about the relationship between seeking an advanced degree and the employment a student may obtain afterward”:
I think many students see the versatility of the law degree as a form of risk insurance. Their intent in attending law school may be to practice law and they'd be disappointed not to. But if they don't find “traditional” legal employment, they still might be able to make use of their law degree. It's common to run into law graduates who have ended up outside of traditional legal practice, but in a field for which the JD has some benefit. Is it wrong to point to such outcomes? I think this could be valid in the PhD realm too. I think for most people it would be foolish to pursue a history PhD if their primary goal was to become a high school history teacher. But is it helpful for the candidate to know that if they can't find a tenure track position at a university, that PhD may still be useful for a high school teacher to land a position at a higher paying school district, or become department head ahead of other faculty? So while it may be overselling to say that a PhD is perfect for someone seeking to become a high school teacher, or a JD is perfect for someone looking to do compliance, I think it's fair to point out to prospective students that these degrees might be beneficial in ways that are not obvious. [Paragraph breaks omitted.]
Because this comment cogently describes a view not uncommon in the legal academy today, it deserves careful assessment. Is this “fourth way” a constructive perspective on whether to pursue a law degree? With all respect to everyone involved, as proposed above and typically presented it is an unacceptably incomplete and often misleading portrayal.
Let me explain why. In broadest (dare I say philosophical) perspective, the path you walk from where you stand right now can go any number of different ways. Having gone a ways down whatever path you choose, you will gain a perspective that you didn’t have at the time you chose the path that got you there. Sometimes that perspective will be one you anticipated when you chose the path; sometimes it won’t. This is really just another way of saying that most of us get wiser as we get older simply because we have the benefit of more experience over time.
To be sure, some of us make better use of our experience than others, but pretty much no matter what path you choose, you will reach a vantage point for which you will discover uses that you might not have enjoyed if you had chosen a different path. And this is true even if you make bad choices. Our prisons contain fair numbers of people who, having made very bad choices, will tell you quite genuinely that they have learned a lot as a result (and I don’t mean this in any ironic or cynical sense; sometimes the lessons we are forced to learn the hard way are the ones that teach us the most). This is not, of course, a reason for anyone to start committing felonies; it’s simply an illustration of the fact that it is quintessentially human to learn and grow. Thus, for anyone open to the benefits of experience—and that describes most of us much of the time—even the worst life choices we make usually teach us lessons with real value. Or as some of my older Yiddish-speaking relatives were prone to remark in times of failure or disappointment, “It shouldn’t be a total loss.”
Let’s apply this insight (assuming you can dignify it with that title) to the decision whether to buy a particular car, a decision many of us have faced at one time or another. The used-car salesman is touting the value and utility of the car, assuring you it has everything you need to take you where you want to go. You are understandably worried that the car may not live up to your needs. One thing that the used-car salesman does not say is, “No worries, pal. You should buy this car because, even if the engine implodes the minute you drive off the lot, the smoking pile of scrap that’s left will have measurable salvage value.” We generally don’t buy cars for their salvage value, especially when any car you buy will have salvage value if it can’t serve the purpose you actually bought it for.
I’m hoping an analogy to the decision whether to attend law school is emerging. If you have your wits about you, you consider whether to go to law school taking into account the likelihood that the degree will take you where you want to go—at the very least, a job that justifies that course of study under the Practical Justification Test set out above (and that includes both Bar Passage Required and, properly defined, JD Advantaged jobs as far as I’m concerned). But what if the car (degree) blows up the minute you drive it off the lot (graduate)? And what if the car costs $150,000, and there’s a 50-50 chance (or worse) that’s it’s going to blow up as soon as you hit the open road? What’s the value of what’s left? Should you buy a law degree for its salvage value? (And to anticipate an objection to the car-buying analogy, yes, we sometimes do consider resale rather than salvage value when we buy cars. But when we do, we are assuming that the car under consideration, like the other cars we might buy instead, will serve its intended purpose and take us where we want to go for as long as we want to keep it, thus assuring that it actually has resale value. When a law degree fails to get us a job that really meets the Practical Justification Test, that’s a car-wreck, and salvage value is all that’s available. Put slightly differently, you can’t resell your law degree, though some have tried; if it fails of its essential purpose, all you can do is salvage your career.)
The more subtle student of the dismal science would point out that whether you buy a law degree for its salvage value should ultimately depend on (a) the likelihood the car will actually blow up when you leave the lot; and (b) what that salvage value is relative to the return you could get from investments of your time and money other than buying the car. Fair enough. There are some serious uncertainty and measurement problems in addressing these questions, but we do know something.
Considering first the odds of an immediate car-wreck: Based on the empirical analysis in my forthcoming article, the average student starting law school last fall has perhaps a 60% chance of getting any job upon graduation that meets the Practical Justification Test described above. Of course, that chance varies quite substantially depending on the student: A highly qualified student attending a highly prestigious institution has more than a 90% chance of getting a job that justifies the course of study. A marginally qualified student at an unranked law school in a saturated market might have a 30% chance or less. So a realistic assessment of your prospects—based on hard, objective evidence like the placement statistics at the school you’re considering, your LSAT, and your undergraduate GPA—is essential. Law school is a much better bet for some than it is for others.
What about salvage value? Here is where the wish is all too often father to the thought. Law-school apologists assume very high salvage value for a law degree. They express this assumption by positing both a broad range of non-law-related jobs for which the degree provides access not available without it, and a broad range of invaluable practical and performance-related benefits that the critical reasoning skills we teach in law school provide in almost any job. Unfortunately, there is simply no empirical evidence that either of these assumed benefits exists for the typical person in any measure substantially greater than could be achieved by paths other than law school that require much less time and money. If you’re going to be unemployed (as a double-digit percentage of recent law graduates are), you’re probably better off unemployed without three wasted years and $150,000 in debt. If you get a job you could pretty much as likely have gotten without the law degree (high-school civics teacher; paralegal), you need to think about the difference between what you would learn in three years on that job without any education expense compared to where you are just starting that same job after a very expensive three years.
So does a law degree have any salvage value? Undoubtedly. Is that salvage value materially greater than what you could get (and the costs you could avoid) doing something else for three years instead of law school? There’s no evidence that it is for many if not most people. And to make things worse, it stands to reason that precisely those law graduates who are most likely to find their law degree failing its essential purpose (which is getting them genuinely law-related jobs) are least likely to achieve good salvage values.
But the key point here is that it’s not enough to say that a law degree has some salvage value. You need to compare that salvage value with how well off you might be if you did something else, or nothing. And that’s where the serious problem with our Midwestern admission officer’s justification emerges in high relief. Slip a generic law-school admissions officer into our hypothetical in place of the used-car salesman. One thing you won’t hear the admissions officer say is:
No worries, pal. It’s true that, considering our school and your credentials, you have less than a 50% chance of obtaining a job for which your law degree will be a necessary or a very important and directly applicable qualification. But you will learn things, and from time to time you’ll find some of those things relevant or even useful in some job unrelated to your education. Of course, I can’t promise you that what you might learn doing something other than law school—something for which an employer might pay you instead of you paying us tuition—wouldn’t prove to be roughly as relevant or useful. So are you in?
In other words, touting the salvage value of a law degree as “a form of risk insurance” without offering a clear-eyed assessment of how likely it is that the risk insurance will be needed, what its coverage limits are, and how cheaply you could get the same benefit another way is inexcusably incomplete. It’s a failure to accept the difference between a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome and smoking pile of scrap.
Last week, I posted a short essay here on the reaction of the Modern Language Association and the American Historical Association to recent doctoral recipients’ difficulties in securing the tenure-track academic jobs for which their programs specifically prepare them. I noted that the graduate academy’s reaction was startlingly similar to what inexplicably remains a widespread belief in the similarly constrained legal academy—namely, that the advanced degrees we sell are not being overproduced, but rather “underused,” prompting a distinguished committee of language and literature scholars to recommend that prospective degree candidates be encouraged to devote a median nine years of their lives to a Ph.D. in language or literature in order to teach (among other things) high school.
Among the various reactions I received was a comment on PrawfsBlawg by Northwestern Law Dean and AALS President Dan Rodriguez. Dean Rodriguez dismisses my observations as an “angry” effort to “channel the irritated folks who pepper this post with ‘stick it to the man’ comments in a redundant and wholly predictable way.” (He also calls me “clever,” but I have a feeling he didn’t mean it the way I might have liked.) I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of the post, but I’ll leave that judgment to you. Much more disappointing is his reduction of the post to the contention that “law profs and administrators who counsel students to pursue non-traditional jobs”—even really good jobs that fully capitalize on the law degree—“are engaging in subterfuge and worse,” when that badly misstates the point I was trying to make. Since Dean Rodriguez is a distinguished scholar and teacher (and by all reports a very nice guy besides), I need to consider the possibility this disconnect resulted from my own failure of clarity. Thus it seems incumbent on me to try again:
There are essentially three ways you can think about the relationship between obtaining an advanced degree and any employment you may obtain afterwards. One is to hold that, for you at least, there is no relationship between the two at all—that you wish or wished to obtain the advanced degree for the love of the discipline rather than for any instrumental purpose, and that you feel your life will be or has been so enriched by the course of studyalone that no more mundane resulting benefit is necessary to justify your choice. This is undoubtedly the case for some devotees of the liberal arts, but their preferences and needs can fairly be described as idiosyncratic. The typical person thinks about graduate or professional education as substantive preparation for a career. (Someone who chooses to pursue an advanced degree usually anticipates enjoying the subject matter too, but that alone is not enough to justify the course of study for the ordinary person—the degree must lead to something more than enlightenment, as heady and transformative as enlightenment may be.)
So a second way of thinking about the relationship between seeking an advanced degree and the employment you may obtain afterwards is to consider whether, ex ante, an ordinary rational person would have planned to pursue the relevant graduate or professional degree to obtain the job. To be clear, on this view it isn’t essential that you end up in the job you may have planned for at the outset, just that you end up in a job that it would have been rational to seek the degree to obtain if you had planned it that way. I explore this view at length in my forthcoming article on the employment market for new lawyers and conclude that it is one effective way of determining whether a law-school graduate has obtained entry-level employment justifying the course of study. This means as a practical matter that either the postgraduate position must require the degree as a condition of employment (the ABA calls this a “Bar Passage Required” job), or that the course of study provides dramatic and substantial advantages in obtaining or performing the job not more easily obtainable or substitutable (whether in nature or extent) another way (the ABA calls this a “JD Advantaged” job). I will have more to say about this view and the kinds of jobs Dean Rodriguez and I each think it targets in a moment.
A third way of thinking about the relationship between seeking an advanced degree and the employment you may obtain afterward is that the course of study transforms you into such a Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome that the degree alone routinely opens doors to countless jobs unrelated to the course of study that would otherwise be closed to you, or that you will be so much better at whatever you do that the degree is a Rocket to Success at almost anything. Both Dean Rodriguez and I think this is an obviously bad description of a law degree. Here’s what he says:
One argument in [Burk’s] post is unassailably right and important to make: Even if one supposes that a law graduate has succeeded in finding a position for which the JD degree provides a clear advantage in the work required, it does not follow that law school was the right educational path or, relatedly, that the benefits of this JD degree outweighed the costs. Of course. Point well taken.
In other words, even though you will probably be a better high-school English teacher if you have a Ph.D. in English, and even though you will probably be a better high-school civics teacher (or, say, paralegal or legal secretary) if you have a JD, it would be irrational for the ordinary person to pursue those degrees as a path to those jobs, and obtaining those jobs after graduation provides no adequate practical justification for having pursued those degrees.
But even though Dean Rodriguez and I think this is obvious, a great many people who really ought to know better apparently don’t. Thus, as my original post bemoaned, a committee of the Modern Language Association charged with assessing graduates’ job prospects recently asserted that a 60% employment rate for Ph.D.s in language and literature somehow did not mean that there were too many doctoral students, but only that prospective students should be encouraged to enroll in doctoral programs in order to obtain jobs teaching high school, or to “put[ their] skills to use in the private sector” in unspecified positions “far from literature.” (Just to be clear, teaching high school is a deeply admirable endeavor and a good job. But it is not a job you would get a Ph.D. to obtain. There are much quicker and easier ways to get there.) The American Historical Association recently delivered itself of the similar view that Ph.D.s in history are currently not “overproduced but underused.”
And countless law-school apologists are still flogging the Smokin’ Bucketful of Awesome theory of legal education (known in more polite circles as the purported “versatility” of the JD degree) like door-to-door encyclopedia salesmen. So as to the point on which Dean Rodriguez and I apparently agree, and apparently agree emphatically, I would hope that the future holds more opportunities for Dean Rodriguez to exploit the bully pulpit of the AALS Presidency and encourage deans and admissions officers to cabin their marketing pitches within fair and realistic limits that today are all too regularly transgressed.
Dean Rodriguez also complains that my post eschews any “careful engagement with the point made by many, including [him], that there are positions which ought to count . . . although a credential as a lawyer is not formally required.” Again I seem to have failed to express myself adequately. Of course I think there is such a thing as a JD Advantaged job; I never said I didn’t. My forthcoming 30-year empirical study of the job market for new lawyers, referred to above, devotes considerable effort to discerning how you might know such jobs when you see them. (See the discussion in Part II.) But I also think (and I’m joined here by plenty of sober and thoughtful observers of the profession, including quite possibly Dean Rodriguez himself, though I’ll leave that to him to say) that in current usage the JD Advantaged category is concealing a multitude of sins, and that a lot of law schools are using any connection they can imagine (however tenuous or incidental) between a job’s responsibilities and some broad notion of legal reasoning to categorize a job as JD Advantaged in order to enjoy the benefits in placement statistics and US News rankings this categorization carries with it. As a result, a great many law schools are probably reporting a great many more placements as JD Advantaged than any sensible definition could justify. I have more to say about why this is likely, but this post is already very long, so watch this space for more discussion of this important topic another day.
In the meantime, although he apparently didn’t realize it, Dean Rodriguez and I agree on something else: One good way to understand what people are doing with their law degrees is to have accredited schools disclose in much more detail the nature and responsibilities of the jobs they are reporting as JD Advantaged. Nearly 12% of the Northwestern Class of 2013 currently holds such jobs, so Dean Rodriguez could make a strong start on this transparency initiative himself.
Quite frankly, I’d bet that a lot of the Northwestern graduates with nontraditional jobs recently reported as JD Advantaged are making valuable uses of their law degrees that justify the investment students made to obtain them. What I don’t think is that graduates of Northwestern Law are good examples of the body of recent law graduates as a whole. Northwestern, a top-ranked law school, has the luxury of selecting its students out of the top few percent of the most qualified candidates in the nation. (Its Class of 2013’s median LSAT was 170, the 97.4th percentile.) Those students are as much any employer’s dream when they leave Northwestern as when they got there, and the options available to them are far broader than the much more numerous law grads in the thicker parts of the bell curve. Northwestern doesn’t have to persuade 20th percentile students with dubious bar-passage prospects to borrow $150,000 in order to keep its lights on. Necessity being the mother that it is, I’d also bet that the schools admitting the 140/2.5s are reporting plenty of JD Advantaged jobs among their recent graduates that no rational person would plan to spend three years and six figures to obtain. And those jobs are not the “management strategy, human resources, regulatory compliance, [and] entrepreneurship” positions at “the growing interface among law-business-technology” that Dean Rodriguez’s graduates may very well be occupying. But he’s right—we won’t know for sure without a lot more transparency. A formal call for this kind of disclosure from AALS would go a long way.
Professor Wendy Scott (North Carolina Central School of Law) has been named as the Dean of Mississippi College of Law, effective this August. Professor (now Dean-to-be) Scott will be the first African-American to serve as that school's dean.
The University of Toronto Faculty of Law is conducting an international search for its new dean. Given that Canada seems to be supplying many of our new law school deans here in the States, it seems the perfect time to export an American to our northern neighbor.
Great news for the folks at George Washington Law. They've named Wake Forest Law Dean Blake Morant as their new dean. Moran, who holds a JD from the University of Virginia, has led Wake Forest for the past seven years. Before that, he was on the Washington and Lee faculty. He is also the President-Elect of the AALS.
Blake is one of my favorite people that I've met over years in academia. The GW law faculty will like having him as their dean and I imagine that the broader community - students and alumni, for example - will be equally pleased.
From our friends at the University of Tennessee comes news of their law dean search. Cribbing now from the announcement.
The University of Tennessee invites applications and nominations for the position of Dean of the College of Law. The Dean is the chief academic and administrative officer of the College and reports to the Chancellor. Salary is nationally competitive and commensurate with experience and qualifications.
Qualifications: We are seeking a dean who can lead us in building on the College’s traditions and achievements. Applicants must possess the following qualifications: a J.D. degree or its equivalent; an established record as an exceptional teacher and scholar or comparable professional achievement meriting appointment as a tenured professor; outstanding communication and leadership skills; the ability to relate effectively to a variety of internal and external constituencies; and a commitment to diversity. Desired qualifications include administrative, fiscal, and fundraising experience, and a demonstrated understanding of the research, instructional, and service needs of a college of law. For additional information, please visit the Current Opportunities page at www.parkersearch.com. [Or go directly to their webpage for the UT search here.]
Application Procedure: Letters of nomination, expressions of interest, or applications (letter of interest, full resume, and contact information for references) to be submitted to the search firm assisting the University. Review of materials will begin immediately and continue until the appointment is made. It is preferred, however, that all nominations and applications be submitted prior to August 25, 2014 to: Laurie C. Wilder, Executive Vice President and Managing Director and Porsha L. Williams, Vice President 770-804-1996 ext: 109.
The University of Georgia School of Law has formally announced its dean search and named its committee members. The announcement is here. The committee is here. Like UNC Law, this has to be one of the most appealing deanships in the country. Why not move to Athens, court a committed alumni base and lead a great faculty at regionally dominant law school?