Search the Lounge


« Risk Regulation Slides Are Posted | Main | Paul Kirgis Named Dean Of Montana Law »

December 04, 2014


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


I would add this:

"Skills courses" are often misguided attempts, because they are designed and taught be either: a.) faculty with no clue about practice (a couple of years doing scut work in BigLaw is worse than irrelevant) or b.) persons who are separated and demeaned by the "regular" "doctrinal" faculty.

THis is the arrogance that prevents any real reform in legal academia playing out. The fault lies in the failure to recognize that the insignificance of the activity of producing the sort of irrelevant and largely ignored "scholarship" that supposedly justifies the divorce of the legal academy from practice is destroying the inspiration and spirit that has sustained law schools.

It is not a question of bean counting "courses." It is a question of focus, of content, of knowledge, of experience, of forward thinking: all toward the one and only goal of making legal education fit the needs of the society a law school serves. Start with faculty hiring. The rest will follow.

How to measure this? Here is the answer: Stop running constant beauty contests and ranking this and that ad nauseum (often in an obviously risible and faulty manner to boot) and get to work trying in earnest to solve a problem: the pendulum has swung too far in a direction away from practical orientation in law schools, and it needs to start swinging back.

Why is this so hard to understand for legal academy? Is this stubborn refusal to acknowledge reality simply a matter of self interest, denial, insecurity and fear? (Seems so, hence the constant "Mirror mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?")


MacK more or less makes my point - that the market rewards the research dominant model of academia found in most law schools.

The market - I assume we would agree - pays for things it values which I assume is a reasonable way to define "practical." Coffee, Grundfest and Epstein are "ideal types" that make up the model of legal academia. And their incomes reflect their success in becoming ideal types.

Even without the consulting income they are handsomely rewarded and the hierarchy of income and perks associated with law schools reflects a similar market reality.

At the top are faculty who conduct peer-reviewed research and are able to generate ideas that have real world impact.

At the bottom (and I mean this only in an income & perks producing way) are adjuncts and clinicians and those tenure track faculty who cannot or have not yet been able to develop ideas that have the kind of market value of the C-G-E types. This approach I think has much more explanatory power for the nature of the legal academy as well as why it will not change too dramatically, at least not in the direction that many of the critics seem to hope


Anon 6:49-

Skills classes are most certainly not "misguided attempts" - whatever that means. They teach practical skills and plenty of full time professors teach them very well. Careful, please, with the generalizations because it really depends on the school. You refer to "legal academia" as if it were some monolothic entity.

I agree that "bean counting" is not a panacea but if you want to know about a school's internal philosophy, taking note of the number of skills courses and how often they are taught is a start. It does tell you something about the values of the school. And since prospective students are demanding more practical experiences, it would help them align their values with the values of the institutions they are thinking of attending. But none of this will happen unless the influential rankers assign a value to the metrics that prospective students care about.



I take your point about refocusing the factors that go into the views of "influential rankers" on its own, but put in context, of course, it betrays a mind set in legal academia (yes, legal academia) that is bogus.

To be sure, the top students chase ratings, and so on, down the line. But, the bottom feeders ... Look at the number of schools unrated by USNWR. One believes that USNWR stopped ranking these schools for, among other reasons, precisely because it so completely destroys your argument about "influence" of rankings for this significant segment.

ANd, this is the segment most important in this discussion: because you and others seem to equate "practice" with "lower rated" ... a manifestation of what so often appears to be a quite desperate desire to think of all those folks beneath you and thereby take some comfort. Hence, the interminable efforts to "rank" everything, often in the most risible and bogus ways.

Why say "misguided attempts" to create "skills courses" and what do the terms "misguided" and "attempt" mean?

To quote Anon above: Ha. Ha. Ha. "Misguided" means, here, well intentioned but inept. "Attempt" means a failed effort. YOur comment illustrates quite well the reason for this: "plenty of full time professors teach them very well." Right back at you, Anon.

What do you mean by "full time professors"? Do you mean all the Ph.D.s recently hired with one or two years doing scut work in BigLaw, if that? Do you mean the second class citizens that most law schools designate to teach "skills courses"? You are describing a group of profs by "Full time" ... please, then, don't complain that "legal academia" is a term too broad to countenance.


I posted earlier and someone asked the type of school I attend. I'm at school ranked between 25 and 50. Skills courses would be fine but what I had in mind was if a few more professors teaching our core classes had some experience outside of an academic setting. I think that would be beneficial since they could better mentor us and would be able to better connect classes to the type of work we'll do after law school. It seems as though our classes do a good job of training us to be appellate lawyers, but only a few people will end up doing that type of work. I don't want to come across as disrespectful by any means. I truly appreciate my professors and think they're great, but it would be nice if we had a few more who were both great scholars and also experienced lawyers.



To be an appellate lawyer, the faculty would have to teach you things like building a record on appeal, how to comb through a record on appeal, advanced legal writing, etc. they do none of this. The only jobs in law that even the smartest grad is competent to hold immediately after graduation are law professor and Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.


Jojo nailed it. I've done a few appeals now. There are hundreds of ridiculous arcane little rules. Even the notice to appeal is tricky - for example a motion for reconsideration invalidates any prior notice of appeal. Of the three appeals I am involved in right now, two of my opponents (attorneys with 20+ years experience) had their briefs rejected for lack of conformity w/rules and had to refile (cost of reprinting is about $800.00). Few law professors and zero new grads know anything about this process.


JM is correct. Young law students find this impossible to believe, which is why the scam has been so entrenched. Law professors know very little about practicing law, or even about the law itself. It's a strange world, and [the good] law faculty spend their time reading appellate decisions trying to decipher trends, thoughts and truths from the judicial tea leaves. With a few notable exceptions, few have much practice experience or could practice again.

Law students, for the most part, are under 28 years old and have excelled in academics. To the extent that they even think about it, they find it impossible to believe that legal education could be divorced from law or that their instructors are anything but the pinnacle of legal knowledge. It's not even an Emperor's clothes problem. It's worse than that. Law students don't even know what clothing is, so they cannot recognize that the Emperor is not wearing any.

If you are fortunate enough to get a legal position, Marie, within about 2 or 3 years you will realize that those who "taught" you law, really knew nothing about it.

Perhaps that's a bit too harsh, because even now I'll draw upon legal concepts that I once learned in law school, but I'll then spend the better part of a day researching it before deciding whether to use it in a brief.

What's taught in law school does have some value, but it has too little value to be worth the cost, and it's taught to too many people to lead to any gainful skill. Therein lies the scam.


"At the top are faculty who conduct peer-reviewed research and are able to generate ideas that have real world impact."

With the exception of those few legal academics who publish in other fields' journals, the research that is published in law reviews is certainly not peer-reviewed. As someone who moved over to an academic field with some overlap of law (public policy), the research in the legal literature is far poorer than what I see in the public policy literature. I mean, I think my favorite was the law journal article in the Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics that offered a putatively quantitative proof that law school was a great idea but started the article saying this analysis was based on "back-of-the-envelope" calculations. In a legitimate academic field that would not get published, and if it did manage to get published it could potentially end the author's career.


Jojo said: "Law professors know very little about practicing law, or even about the law itself."

I'll disagree with the second part. Law professors know a great deal about the law--at least mine did. The problem is that the law is not really applied in the practice of law. All practioners, including judges, are so focused on the zillion procedural issues, ethical obligations and discovery rules that they have no time or inclination to actually research a doctrinal issue. Many have not read a full case in years. It is total chaos.

I think the law is great. It provides a lot of answers that people are searching for. I also think my first year professors are across-the-board smarter and more honest than any lawyer I have ever met in practice. If civil procedure was simplified and discovery limited, then there would be more focus on applying the correct doctrinal law in practice.


"Jojo nailed it. I've done a few appeals now. There are hundreds of ridiculous arcane little rules. Even the notice to appeal is tricky - for example a motion for reconsideration invalidates any prior notice of appeal."

Well, in some contexts - such as appeals from some administrative decisions - reconsideration does not stop the clock to file a notice of appeal. Different judges and jurisdictions have their own courtroom quirks as well. Certainly many law schools offer general courses on procedure at the trial and appellate level for both civil and criminal. Would you like law schools to offer a class for each individual judge's courtroom or every appellate jurisdiction at the state and federal level? If you do not believe that law school trained you to read court rules or pick up a phone to ask the clerk a question (as even seasoned appellate attorneys have to do some times), how would you design a course to make sure these gaps in the curriculum were adequately filled?


I'm glad folks are talking about the "market" and how it has led in large part to what we see in legal education today and how it is an impediment to needed changes.

Let me throw two additions out there:

1. Whatever informational reporting changes you want, they need to be added to the annual mandatory ABA disclosures. The rankings use those data points because they can count on them more than private self-reported data. In other words, make the ABA require its disclosure and it has a much better chance of being used in the rankings and thus driving change at law schools.

2. As one reporting/disclosure requirement, mandate that schools report the average years of practice experience of their full-time faculty before they became faculty. Require that it be listed on the school's website. Of course, there would be little details to work out in such a requirement, but there is no reason it could not be done.

(Also, as an aside, some of the comments have implied that legal academics are the source of, or creators of, or driving force behind rankings. That is ridiculous. Yes, most of legal academia is too focused on prestige, often as a substitute for evaluating quality. But I think legal academia would get rid of the rankings in a heartbeat if they could. They recognize what a waste of time and money they are and how they negatively impact legal education as a whole.)


"But I think legal academia would get rid of the rankings in a heartbeat if they could."

REally? As a regular reader of this site, you know that after a certain other law blog publishes a bogus poll, the information is then imported here, massaged, discussed and dwelled upon as if it were even remotely valid. The lists and ranks and polls in legal academia are incessant, and usually are offered not as a response to USNWR, but in competition with it.

How many law review articles are published that concern lists and ranks and orders of beauty in the eyes of some very distorted (and deluded) beholders (e.g., those who think of themselves as "rock stars" shopping in a "meat market" for "best athletes" who have full "dance cards.")

Please. Let's not pretend that legal academia recognizes the truth: that their predominant mind set "is a waste of time and money ... and ... negatively impact[s] legal education as a whole."

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the unranked schools thought about the freedom that allows, and strived to reform, knowing that they cannot be hurt by USNWR or any other arrogant and self referential measures promulgated by a self sustaining "elite" that has so totally lost touch with the legal profession, and indeed, has ruined the perception of the legal academy in the minds of young people?


anon @4:35,

Large parts of the academia do have a prestige problem, but I don't know a single law professor (and I know a lot of law professors) who wouldn't get rid of the USNEWS ranking in a heartbeat if they could. Now maybe some of them would try to replace it with something "better" - who knows. Rankings are not inherently bad - they serve as good sources of information for prospective students IF they are based on something credible, relevant, etc. - in other words not based on the mostly crap USNEWS is based on. I was probably nuclear about what I meant in the first post. I do agree legal academics are too prestige focused, and there are even more examples than you mentioned of it.

"Wouldn't it be wonderful if all the unranked schools thought about the freedom that allows, and strived to reform,..."

Some have. Didn't make any difference.

No one noticed. Did you notice? No one notices anything the unranked schools do (unless it is bad).

Maybe they could try more. Take more risks. But they are the schools least able to take risks for a variety of reasons.

And the truth is that they know prospective students will not respond to that approach. Why would a student go to an unranked school when their job and career prospects are clearly helped by going to the highest ranked school they can go to regardless of the quality of education they might receive? That is a perfectly rational choice for the prospective student to make (as others have pointed out earlier in this thread).

It just shows that the entire system (i.e. not just "evil/greedy" faculty) is warped, almost hard wired against change.

The most likely ways for change to actually happen are from the top down (ABA, Federal government) or from bottom up (what prospective students demand). If what students demand is high prestige for their JD (a rational choice), why would an individual school seek anything but prestige? Can you change employers' demand? Can you move employers away from looking at the JD first and using its prestige as a measure of the applicant? If you could do that, that might change what prospective students want which could then get you to systemic change. But unnumbered schools and career services offices have tried to do that with pretty much zero results.

It's a tough nut to crack. It's not something where one school could snap their fingers and make everything better. Too many pieces of the system that have led to exactly what we have are out of the control of any one school or faculty or even of all of them together.


"Now maybe some of them would try to replace it with something "better" - who knows."

Obviously, this is already a true fact; though, these are failed efforts.

As for the rest, so much to unwind here. First, there is a distorted view in legal academia of "employers." Because profs are chosen from an insulated and pampered group divorced from the realities of practice, they all seem to equate "practice" with BigLaw.

ATL, most law firms don't hire anyone from Yale, and don't aspire to.

Ditto for the unranked schools. You say no one notices. That isn't a fact that demonstrates that reform is useless: that is, again, self referential and spoken from the cocoon of legal academia. Look, if no one from unranked schools can get a job because "practice" is so "prestige" focused, then, fine, close those schools down.

But, the fact is that students graduating from unranked schools can and do obtain employment, and, if these schools innovated those employment numbers would go up.

It is just the mindset reflected by your comment - "There is not way other than our way, there is no reality other than what we see, there is no hope to do things differently because we won't notice" - that is destroying legal academia, because profs are so insulated and isolated from practice that they no longer have an clue about the reality of America (hint: it isn't the elite BigLaw firms that are predominant or most relevant for the VAST majority of law students.)

It is a tired phrase, but so apropos here: WAKE UP!!!


"if these schools innovated those employment numbers would go up"

How though? They always try to innovate, create clinical courses, try partnering with organizations and law firms, mentoring, etc. etc. and the practicing bar is almost completely unaware of any of this. Nothing law schools do really get on the radar of people actually doing hiring.



As AnonProf said ...

My view is that no one notices because those doing the noticing aren't knowledgeable.

Here's what I mean. Law school academicians are the product of elite law schools and in recent times have been hired precisely because they are completely antithetical to the practice of law. Why say "antithetical"?

Because those doing the hiring recently in legal academia regularly disparage practitioners (just read this blog: profs regularly claim that practitioners don't "think," the level of their ignorance disgustingly plain, but, there on display, for all to see).

Those recently hired are worse: they have no real basis to know whether they despise practice and practitioners or not. Many, in some schools most (that is, most of those who don't have some other "attribute" important to hiring committees) have Ph.D.s in subjects other than law and really are just clueless about the main mission of a law school (Hint: the mission of a law school is not to be a mini university, housing departments of economics, history, philosophy, basket weaving, meditation, etc., led by persons unqualified to teach those subjects in the actual departments of the university where they belong, posing as if they were.)

Why would we expect these persons to know what is occurring in the legal market? Being barely cognizant of hiring trends in BigLaw (a tiny, irrelevant criterion), is the most we can expect these days. These persons don't know what the legal market is, let alone how to fix legal education to better serve it. (Hence, "clinics" and so forth that are often just poverty law opportunities posing as "experience" relevant to "practice" - as if vast numbers of graduates will, for example, make their way representing people fighting evictions by claiming they have cockroaches, or fighting utility bills, and so forth.)

It is no surprise that legal academicians don't know and don't care about the market for legal services (except, of course, to the extent that many may be losing their jobs in the near future.)

What these persons actually care about is whether Tulane is "better" than San Diego, whether it is H Y S, or S Y H, or Y H S, and feathering their nests like nobody's watching while putting in less and less effort as the years roll by.

Now, you say, employers are no better: they don't know or care what law schools do. I don't recall if you participated in the threads a few days back, but the challenge to identify State Bar association reports on the state of legal education was easily met. A tremendous amount of attention has been paid to legal education by the practicing bar, and is being paid by the bar. (Law profs often indulge the fiction that practitioners "don't know what we do" and therefore can't comment: a risible and, again, ignorant assertion, given the volume of work simply attempting to hold legal academia to its stated principles.)

The only real question is how stubbornly legal academicians can cling to the old pretexts upon which their perception of their own "status" has been built. As this perception collapses for all those employed by law schools below a certain "rank" the dawning will come soon (or has already arrived), but it is too late for them. They have dragged down the lower tiers by pretending that they are all Harvards and Yales.

Those at the top of the pile will continue to play their violins, listening to their own tuneless, isolated and largely ignored squeaking with such self gratifying pleasure that nothing will intrude on their bliss.

At least for now.

Many folks have bet wrongly on the ultimate high water mark when the flood comes. It is raining now, quite hard.

See, original post above.


If the practicing bar thinks legal academia is irrelevant then why do alums continue to fund law schools?

At the top tier these donations enable those schools to double or triple their per capita expenditures above student tuition, or to reduce or even eliminate tuition for a large number of students.

Just saying...

anon @ 3:15: The answer is vanity and because those who can afford to give millions to their elite law schools most likely have no problem with the legal academy and give it at least some credit for their success. They also like to see their names carved into impressive new buildings, their portraits hanging in law libraries, etc., etc.

The average law grad from the average law school does not give back. If they give at all it is to their undergraduate institution, most alumni relations people know this.

The comments to this entry are closed.


  • StatCounter
Blog powered by Typepad