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July 15, 2014


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What seems impossible yet could be done and keep a law school a law school? Faculties that are not predominately graduates of the elite schools. And faculty salaries that are half of what they are now.


A lot of "impossible" things are going to quickly become possible when schools face the possibility of closing their doors.

Jeff Redding

anon123, JillyfromPhilly, and Nathan A: I have deleted your comments. This post and the question it posed was not an invitation for your usual critiques of law schools. It asked a different question. Try again or please stop posting here.


Why not just study the economics of legal education in the 1960's, when real tuition at a private school was around (guessing here) $5,000 in today's dollars?

I think that means less compensation for faculty and administration, and higher student/faculty ratios. Perhaps less money spent on buildings too.

It's arrogant to presume that the solution requires something novel, ingenius or creative. Just undue what you have ruined.

Jeff Redding

JM: I understand the sentiment, but I think you are begging the question in a way. A lot of critiques/wish lists of law schools involved some sort of desire to just 'turn back time,' but clearly we don't have access (yet) to time travel. Plus, it's not clear if we even know *what* to go back to because the changes (many subtle) have piled on top of each over time, so we no longer even remember how 'the good 'ole days' really were. Thus, the post is asking a hard question (I think), namely to imagine the impossible, the vanished, the forgotten, etc.

Nathan A

Ending student subsidization of legal scholarship seems "especially impossible to change in our present moment with our accumulated histories and our cultural embedded-ness." Completely re-working the system into a more apprentice-based training, just like medical school or graduate engineering education, also seems like it would qualify as a radical change. But I guess not.

p.s: The fact the some critiques are repeated over and over again probably indicates that those critiques are probably targeting something especially impossible to change.

Jeff Redding

Nathan A: What exactly do you mean by apprentice-based training, and why do you think people would think that a school that offered something like would not be a 'law school'? (And, btw, nice meta point… will have to puzzle over that one for a bit, but it may very well be true in many ways.)

Del Griffith

Some law schools might move toward a faculty structure of a small full time faculty augmented by practicing attorneys traching as adjuncts.

Jeff Redding

Del Griffifth: And how might doing so affect the perception of a law school doing that? Would they be any less of a law school? That's what I'm trying to ask here.

Steven Freedman

Radical change that might not be so radical - switching to a LL.B. style system. Two years of undergrad plus three years of law school. Many schools have already switched to a 3 + 3 program, going to a 2 + 3 program might not be such a momentous step forward. That's essentially the system in most countries, can't see why it wouldn't work here. Of course the chances of the ABA, law schools, and universities seriously considering this are close to zero. Which is why it likely falls into the "impossible" category.

Steven Freedman

Sorry, I should have said many schools have begun 3+3 programs, not switched to one.

Just saying...

Law schools could definitely combine many administrative functions with their universities including: Communications/web/PR, IT, special events, admissions, development, facilities management, and yes, the library.

Law schools have, in many places, hired their own people in these areas first, because they could, and second because overly demanding faculty and students did not think that they should be like the rest of the university community and share these services with other academic units.

Law students and profs what immediate attention in terms of IT support, library services, facilities issues and there is in some schools the element of elitism (law school better than everyone else).

In admissions, development, library, there could be a few dedicated law folks (esp. trained law librarians), but no need to support and house entire separate departments in the law school building.

Jeff Redding

Steven: And to follow up, do you think that a school that went this way would be anything less than a law school in the American imagination? I personally wouldn't think so. If I'm 'right,' then it would seem that this is still part of the possible, i.e. stuff that can change and still leave us with 'law schools.'


Well, the question really depends on the asker. Obviously, a professor is going to think that law school wouldn't be law school without "market-like salaries" for law professors, hiring people out of YHS and the federal circuit courts, and significant resources devoted to scholarship. A rich donor might be aghast that the school didn't choose to build shiny new buildings. Personally, it's within my Overton Window to imagine a law school solely staffed by non-scholarship producing faculty (which doesn't mean those faculty do not write about the law in trade journals), with almost no administrators or facilities aside from classrooms. But if we're talking about the tradition of the law program being thought of as a school within the university:

-I do think there needs to be a core of dedicated, tenured scholars, but it should be a significantly smaller, lower-paid, and if needs be, lower-credentialed. Of course, that works at cross-purposes, but I think if they tried the academy could find very well-credentialed candidates even if they paid less money.
-Law schools do not need a lot of administrative staff. Career services and admissions departments are probably the places to start. I am not sure why schools need Deans and Assistant Deans of Admissions, Career Services, etc. Higher-tier admin positions could be cut, professors given a stipend to do that work, and their services significantly pared down.
-As for libraries, I don't know what purpose a separate library serves other than convenience for the professors and spaces for students to sit and study without being bothered by undergrads. Law librarians could be based at the main library to assist law professors with research and important books could be kept in storage. Everything else could be digitized.
-At least at my law school, student groups (including secondary journals) proliferated greatly and mostly were not self-supporting. Perhaps a professional school cannot be considered a professional school without programs intended to foster a sense of community between students, but there are cheaper ways to do this.
-Law professors should prepare their own course materials and offer them at printing cost. I'm sorry, but the very concept of a casebook that costs $200 and consists of public domain material is absurd.

Jeff Redding

Just saying… : Then you appear to still be talking about 'the possible.' I'm asking for the impossible. :-)

Jeff Redding

JM: Your comment has been deleted for not responding to the substance of the post.

Former Editor

You are looking for that without which the je ne sais quoi of law schoolness would be lost? I can think of a short list:

1. Some doctrinal faculty and some legal writing faculty (which can be the same people) who occasionally publish legal commentary relevant to the laws of the jurisdictions in which the law school is located.
2. Some sort of brick and mortar location in which faculty have offices. This doesn't need to be its own building within a larger university campus, but having one probably makes sense.
3. Access to brick and mortar classrooms in which classes are taught. i.e., a pure online degree doesn't cut it.
4. Its own admissions committee, separate from any larger university. Admissions administrative staff can be shared, however.
5. Its own faculty hiring committee, separate from any larger university.
6. Its own Dean and subdeans (students, academic affairs).
7. Its own career services and internship placement staff. These can, and maybe should, be the same people.
8. At least one, preferably a few, dedicated law librarians and student/faculty access to legal scholarship. Physical texts can be housed within a larger university library, however.
9. A law review (just one, which can be online only).

Ok, # 9 may reflect a personal bias.

Jeff Redding

Former Editor: I've wondered too about Legal Research & Writing. I don't know from personal experience (I've only been teaching 6 years), but it is my impression that these programs have slowly been built over many years to what we have now. And they seem impossible to cut. NB: I am no way advocating their cutting, just noting that these programs are now seemingly essential (as I perceive our notion of what we consider a 'law school') but that they weren't a few decades ago. So, I'd agree, we can't just 'turn back time' here.

I'm less in agreement that if a school decided to get rid of its law reviews, that the school would be considered to be falling from the ranks of 'real' law schools. Either from the perspective of students or faculty or staff.

Kyle McEntee

Jeff, we wrote a paper that played around with some of these ideas 2 year ago. (Wow, that seems like it was just yesterday). You can find it on SSRN. Bernie wrote about it on TFL and he wasn't super impressed, but our intent was to generate discussion similar to this thread. Give it a read when you get a chance, http://

One of the key points we make is relevant without any other context. In the paper, we say:

Creating a thorough model for affordable legal education requires comprehensive data about law school finances, among other information, that is not yet publicly available. Being able to claim that a new model can be done for X price or without a particular feature are both key to moving forward with reforms. But without structural transparency, skeptics of a new model can rest their dismissive retorts on statements like "you don't understand enough about law schools," or on appeals to authority. Structural transparency is therefore essential to falsify unjustly powerful objections and analyze the true potential of these models; otherwise, the inmates will continue to run the asylum.

Ian Holloway

Jeff -

The law review culture seems pretty entrenched to me - both because employers use it as a sorting mechanism, and because law profs need a publishing outlet for career purposes.

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