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August 18, 2011

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joanheminway

As someone who moved into the law academy after 15 years of private practice in Big Law (albeit 11 years ago), I believe there are mid-career folks who would take the substantial pay cut that making that move requires. I did come in with a starting salary substantially below $100,000 a year and have a 2-2 teaching load. But one of the attractions of the job for me was the opportunity for scholarship--researching and writing in a way that a practitioner cannot about important legal questions. I am not sure I would have left were it not for that . . . . So, I do think that that may affect the number or type of faculty that would be attracted to this venture from a lucrative private practice position.

I do agree that the attraction of a school modeled like the one Roger describes would likely come from more than the cost--geography, a market niche of some kind, etc. would likely be needed. In Tennessee, we have had two new private law schools open in the past few years (one is starting classes this fall) with practical curricula and tuition in excess of $20,000. I cannot speak for the newest entrant in the market (charging over $32,000 in tuition and fees) or give any details on the last immediate entrant (charging almost $30,000 in tuition and fees for its full-time day program) in terms of meeting enrollment or financial expectations, but I can say that some students have been attracted to the latter, which is located here in Knoxville and offers a part-time/night program alternative (which we do not do).

Anon Law Prof

This is a terrific and provocative idea. Three questions.

1. Why $20k? If part of the idea is to recreate the model of law teaching from an earlier era, why not set the tuition to an inflation-adjusted level of tuition paid by students at, say, the University of Michigan in the 1940s. I don't know what that level was, but I expect it was well below $20k in today's dollars.

2. No pomo jurisprudence is fine. But EU Corporate Governance is actually pretty darn important as a doctrinal and practical matter.

3. Where are the teaching assistants going to come from? How much are they going to be paid?

Alfred Brophy

Anon Law Prof -- that $20,000 per year tuition came from dividing the cost to run C1957CL ($10 million per year) by 500 students. If there were ways to run the school less expensively, then the tuition would be lower.

Orin Kerr

In response to Ben Barros -- who was in return responding to me -- if the point is just to get great teachers, then why rely on proxies such as fulltime vs. parttime, or good practitioners versus poor ones? Some people are great teachers, and some aren't, just like some people make great practitioners and some don't. So if the point is to have great teachers, then I would think the thing to do is hire great teachers regardless of whether they are fulltime, parttime, good practitioners or bad ones, or even have any practice experience at all. Just watch them teach, or hire adjuncts who received terrific evaluations, or do whatever you need to tell who is a top teacher.

Now, perhaps the concern is that no one will take a school seriously unless the school aims to hire "top" practitioners and have them teach full-time; it's a way of showing academic seriousness to do that. But I suppose that's what makes the post provocative.

Ben Barros

Orin, fair enough. I agree that some people have a lot of natural talent for teaching. I do think, however, that people devoted to teaching as their full-time career are more likely to be better and more rigorous teachers. I agree with your observation that hiring “top” practitioners and having them teach full-time would be a bid for academic and professional seriousness. Maybe an equally or more provocative question would be to skip the bid for seriousness and teach largely using adjuncts. The cost could probably be decreased dramatically in that way.

MC

For that 100k to go very far, you would need this law school couldn't be located in any of the top 20 largest metropolitan areas of the country (maybe you could get away with putting it on the outskirts, like GMU). But in most other places 100k isn't bad at all.

FollowtheLawyer

Dan and Leslie,

Thanks for the laughs. Top-drawer satire. Imagine, actually believing that graduates from traditional schools uniformly achieve these elevated levels of insight, nuanced reasoning, bravura argumentation skills and "out of the box" thinking -- you know, the smarties that use fresh metaphors like "out of the box."

You almost had me fooled. Kudos.

Retired to teach

I'd expect you would have access to some terrific faculty by focusing on practitioners with 25+ years experience (so in their 50s), who have spent significant portions of their time teaching at CLE programs or producing internal firm seminars/serving as training coordinators, and who may have contributed to bar association activities (these last factors demonstrate an interest in public service as well as in the development of lawyers and the law). Many of this age group will have secured a satisfactory-to-them financial status (no mortgage, college funds secure, well funded KEOUGH/401(k)or public pension plan, etc.), and be willing to take on a second, less lucrative, career in service to the profession. And many great lawyers once thought about teaching as a career but were put off by academia's penchant for silly papers of no consequence in the real world.

You'll find a number of these types floating around schools today as distinguished practioners or the like. By bringing them fully into the on-campus faculty ranks, as opposed to serving as adjuncts, they can have a great impact on students and other faculty. But they will not have the shelf life of a new VAP hire, because at some point the grandkids and the golf course will prevail!

George

I think this model works, and I'll even tell you the school it should be established at--Texas A&M. You market it as an alternative to the hoity-toity UT Law and bring in a succession of high end professionals from Houston and elsewhere in Texas. Get a commitment from major law firms in Texas to hire from the new school.

Jason Mazzone

Law schools don't seem to have much of a problem attracting students so the N-F Law School should easily be able to assemble a class. That said, my reaction to the proposal roughly tracks that which Orin has expressed. The argument for having practitioners teach in law schools is that they can impart skills that are uniquely acquired in practice. One can debate whether, in a rapidly evolving legal world, that's a good thing or not and how much of it is desirable. But I don't see the logic of moving from that idea to the conclusion that practitioners should teach all law school classes. In many core fields, practitioners don't obviously bring any special skill set. For example, Constitutional Law (the example I know best) is not a field in which legal practice makes perfect. Understanding the field requires time, lots of time, spent reading and thinking about cases and learning a good deal of history. Unless you are, say, the Solicitor General, being in practice doesn't typically provide opportunities for lawyers, who serve the narrow interests of clients, to devote time to these purposes. The same thing is likely true in other fields. I wonder, for example, how many practitioners there are who understand Fourth Amendment law as well as Orin. On the other hand, there are courses (section 1983 litigation, for example, or negotiation) in which practical experience is more of a plus. At the end of the day, just as a law school that has no practitioners teaching has shortcomings, a law school with all practitioners isn't going to be providing students with the best possible education. So I'm left wondering what the point is.

Jason Mazzone

In thinking about what practitioners can and cannot add to legal education, we should also keep in mind the diminishing returns of practical experience. Beyond a quickly-attained point, more experience in practice doesn't correlate with stronger legal skills to impart to students. The reality is that legal practice isn't that hard (and in any event much of what lawyers do is repetitive). There are things to be learned to become a skilled lawyer but there is no great mystery about any of it. Once one has taken one deposition, the second isn't difficult. Law is thus radically different from medicine (the field that is often invoked by those who think that only experienced lawyers should be teaching). If I'm having a surgical procedure there really are good reasons for me to pick the surgeon who has done the procedure 100 times over the surgeon who has done it five times. But a lawyer who has written five wills is perfectly adequate to prepare mine as his sixth. As with anything, more time doing something allows one to capture some additional benefits: better judgment, greater speed, a network of colleagues. But those aren't things that can be taught to law students anyway. The "highly talented experienced practitioners" that the N-F Law School seeks to recruit could thus easily be lawyers with two or three years experience. Outside of the most elite schools (which have no reason to change their approach), many of the faculty members hired today already have that.

Eric Rasmusen

I'm an economist, so maybe I'm wrong, but aren't there a lot of this kind of law school already-- the kind that just teaches people to pass the bar exam and hires cheap faculty?

Taxprof just recently posted a good set of links to public law school salaries. See http://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2011/08/public-law.html . It looks like all the regular faculty earn well over $100,000 even with 2/2 or lower course loads and smaller classes to teach.

Will this new law school be able to attract anybody who was top 1/3 of their class in a top 20 law school with a heavy teaching load, no reward for research, only mundane topics to teach, students who choose a law school because it's cheap and don't care that it has no scholarly credentials, and on a salary of $100,000?

My question is not rhetorical; I know a lot of lawyers do earn less, but I don't know whether they are top third of their class and whether their jobs are less interesting and more vexing than teaching.

Stuart L. Pardau

I think it is a very interesting idea. A few comments: 1) I would like to run scenarios that drive annual tuition below your $20K hypothetical; 2) consider greater use of technology which obviate the need for at least some "in-class" time + limited expenses needed for a traditional law library; 3) take a look a the maligned bar review courses, particularly bar-bri which for a mere pittance taught me more law in 2 months than I learned in 3 years at an elite law school; 4) leverage for profits, non-profits and courts by providing "free labor" in return for training/apprenticeships; 5) preserve the Socratic method, which does make U.S. legal training unique and I do believe makes for the U.S. still producing the smartest and most skilled lawyers on the planet; 6) Instead of jettisoning Socrates, just supplant it in years 2 and 3 with heavy emphases on practical applications and pedagogy -- the biggest problem is that most law Profs lack the requisite private practice and other practical experience to teach anything that is useful; 7) Develop a faculty around practitioners who are skilled and passionate about sharing their knowledge; 8) I think any number of skilled practitioners still at the top of their game would be delighted to get paid $100K or thereabouts to teach 2 classes a Semester provided they didn't have to deal with internal BS and had limited publications requirements; 9) Even better, an amazing pool of qualified candidates come from those lawyers nearing or at retirement who have had long and distinguished careers; and 10) Finally, after the 3rd year, establish an "apprenticeship program" which would be anywhere from 1-3 years in length, depending on the area of speciality. The students just like everywhere else would take the bar after the 3rd year of law school, but after that they would be bound by the apprenticeship with the expectation that in return for very low pay, they would get trained and presented with some additional diploma or certification. Both the diploma/certification and more importantly the experience obtained would be a key differentiator in getting excellent employment and setting a career path.

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TS

Will the faculty have tenure? If so, a $100k starting salary might be adequate. I know partners at big law firms in big cities who left to earn close to this amount (or perhaps even less) in rural and (to me) unappealing places.

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