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January 15, 2015

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anon

ANonPRof

Don't worry about the endless looking in the mirror that the faculties of which you speak engage: "Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the fairest of them all?" "I'm better than him, I'm better than her, I'm better, better, better" ... This is all bs.

BTW, the reason those buildings got built was USNWR taking expenditures into consideration, no?

No point in speaking of your school if we don't know the identity. We can't verify the profile of your faculty, the location, the placement rates, etc. Suffice it to say that if you blame prestige, or the lack thereof, for failure to place grads in BigLaw, and you are at a lower ranked, urban school, IMHO you are barking up the wrong tree.

Again, IMHO, no matter what profile you claim to describe the faculty, if they act and think according to the mores of the law school academic establishment as presently constituted (and I suspect they do, given your references) then they are contributing to its abject failure. In fact, lower ranked law schools are doing more to neglect the needs of the communities they serve than the elite schools, IMHO.

(Part of these needs, of course, includes producing competent attorneys, who do not usually have a background as students who slacked off or were unable to do better than the bottom 15% in undergraduate school.)

David Frakt, above, does not really address the need to close law schools. For all the whining about how to tighten belts without really touching the padding of compensation and unseemly nest feathering, the bestowing of ever more titles (associated with increased compensation) and the basically unbelievably cushy jobs that legal academy considers ever so tiring, the best short term solution would be to rid the legal academy of schools that exist to feed off the federal loans, using marginally qualified or unqualified students as duped conduits.

However, that step, even if taken, would not change the perception that the legal academy has created, and thus the revulsion created in the public at large. The clueless cannot lead here. Something has to change in the hiring or the situation will only worsen.

And, AnonPRof, it is unfortunate but true that law schools on a par with the Infilaw schools will not be able to lead here (except, in the ABA, where the relevant regulators have been captured by these schools).

John Thompson

"In the abstract, it seems obvious that the right thing to do is to draw a line in the sand and refuse to lower standards even further, especially at the lower-tier schools which are already scraping the bottom of the talent pool."

When we talk about law schools, we are talking about institutions that:

* Raise tuition and fees by several multiples of inflation every year in the middle of the worst market for their degree since the '70s (apologies to Iowa and the handful of others who haven't done this);

* Raise tuition and fees precisely so that students of lesser demonstrated ability (e.g. uGPA & LSAT) can pay enough to offset the tuition breaks given to students of greater demonstrated ability, while totally aware that these students of lesser demonstrated ability will carry more debt with fewer job prospects on average;

* Studiously avoid confronting the outcomes of their less successful graduates while making it seem to prospective students that their more successful graduates represent median outcomes, not outliers.

Law schools have a license to charge prospective students pretty much whatever so long as their captive regulators (the ABA and the state bar association) don't object. The courts have shown no interest in punishing law schools financially for lies or omissions that led their graduates to consider attending. Why wouldn't most law schools simply go on charging the less academically promising whatever is necessary to entice the better credentialed? It gives the illusion of standards being maintained while asking professors and administrators to sacrifice nothing.

Michelle

Quick comment on the suggestion for libraries. I agree with Adam that most, if not all, academic libraries have been making cuts for years, closely scrutinizing use in making those decisions. Further, I was amused to read David's comment that faculty and students get free access to Lexis and Westlaw. Students may not pay directly for either of these services, but their tuition does fund the library's budget, which in turn pays the subscription prices for each service. These aren't commercial prices, but they're substantial charges in any law library's budget. In fact, many of the e-resources available to law faculty and students are costly, sometimes more expensive than their print equivalents, though they often have additional benefits to offset the costs. (Yes, I am a librarian).

I still think that the issues David raises are worth discussion, but I do wonder if some of data underlying his suggestions may be faulty.

David Frakt

Michelle -

Clearly law library budgets are not my strong suit. I have revised my post accordingly. Thanks for your comments.

LegalBeagle

As law schools take students who are less and less qualified, they will need to provide those students with more and more resources, including a robust, full time legal writing program, yet that is exactly the opposite of what is likely to occur. The result will likely be reflected not only in low bar pass rates but also in less well trained lawyers, which is also just what the legal market is not looking for.

I think we need to get better at identifying and dismissing students at the bottom of the curve; and I think we also need to improve our ability to teach the remaining ill equipped students to practice law.

Legal writing teachers need to switch to doctrinal. Tenured professors need to retire!

David Frakt

General comments -
I agree that law professors can teach more. Undergraduate legal studies professors, many of whom are similarly qualified to law professors (many are J.D./Ph.D.s) teach twice as many classes as law professors with more graded assignments for half the money that law professors make, while still pursuing ambitious scholarly research agendas. Law professors have had it easy for a long time. When an industry is in decline, everyone has to work a little harder and make some shared sacrifices.

There is no doubt that the professionalizing of the legal writing field, so that most legal writing classes are now taught by full-time faculty (some tenure-track, some on long-term contracts, some on fellowships) has been hugely expensive for law schools. When I went to law school, these classes were actually taught by upper-division students! I for one, believe that legal writing is more important than ever, and every bit as important as doctrinal courses. Students graduating from college seem to have weaker and weaker basic writing skills, and with the overall decline in admissions standards, returning to an adjunct based model, where the quality of teaching is more uneven and the instructors, no matter how dedicated, do not have the same availability as full-time instructors (assuming that the legal writing adjunct is a full-time practicing attorney). While every major expense category must be on the table, I would be very cautious about cutting legal writing.

Former Editor

On LegalBeagle's point, I've often wondered why doctrinal and writing professors are kept in separate pools. It seems to me that a teaching split for all faculty between, say, one doctrinal and one or two writing sections a semester would (a) save costs, (b) require the tenured faculty to interact with students more directly, and (c) provide educational benefits on the doctrinal end of things by overlapping the doctrinal teachings with the practice teachings (i.e., a legal writing assignment can require the students to apply things they recently learned in the doctrinal class).

AnonProf

I like that suggestion Former Editor, but it may be tough to convince tenured professors to increase their workload. I think Washington & Lee does something like that.

anon

I also think FE's suggestion is a good one. I don't know about W&L, but South Texas and Elon already do something along those lines.

Christine Hurt

I was the director of an LRW program for 4 years. The first year I supervised 30+ adjuncts. Two quit mid-year and one literally stopped talking phone calls or answering emails. I had to email the managing partner of her law firm before she would admit that she had not showed up for classes. Some adjuncts were awesome, but quality was not uniform. I kept track of student evaluations, and the difference between sections taught by the three full-time LRW instructors and the long-term adjuncts and the short-term adjuncts were stark. Students hated it. I thoroughly believe that students learn more when taught by full-time instructors who are on-site and would love to test the hypothesis that investments in the LRW program will be recouped in the annual fund. The full-time LRW faculty were paid less and had very little in the way of research and travel budget (because scholarship was not required). I am quite happy to have the adjunct v. full-time debate with others with similar experiences.

twbb

Convince? Fiat from on high. Make them do it, then fire them if they don't. "Tenured" does not mean "non-fireable."

Kyle McEntee

FE, check out what North Texas is doing at their new law school.

Former Editor

Kyle,

Thanks for pointing me over there. I recalled a buzz about the school a little while back, pegged to its comparatively low tuition. I was not aware of its overlapping course structures and the inclusion of research, writing, and skills tasks into upper level course design. This is pretty innovative stuff (at least for the law school world). If the curriculum and course design is as described on the website, I suspect its graduates will be much more prepared for legal practice and do better on the bar exam than the entering class's credentials would predict. The type of learning tasks they seem to be aiming at are much more in line with most research on effective strategies to increase student information retention than the typical law school curricular and pedagogical design. Time will tell.

Maybe the school's surprisingly high number of applications was about more than just its sticker price? I know a curriculum structured like this would have been much more appealing to me as a prospective student than the typical one. I now really hope this law school makes it.

AnonProf

Part of the problem with having doctrinal faculty teach legal writing is that many doctrinal faculty never practiced law, or practiced law for so short of a period of time that they wouldn't know how to teach complaint drafting, etc. Perhaps they could learn, or maybe schools should hire faculty with more practical experience. But in a world where most doctrinal faculty have less than three years of practice experience, maybe they wouldn't be the best. However, as previously stated, assuming experienced doctrinal faculty, I do like the idea.

twbb

AnonProf, every professor, whether they practiced or not, should be able to teach some aspect of legal writing, even if it's the argument section of an appellate brief.

anon

twbb, sadly, most can't and wouldn't even if they could.

Just saying...

Doctrinal faculty look down on LW and clinical faculty. Just ask any LW prof or clinician how hard it was for them to get any form of faculty status and respect from their tenured faculties. Both had to try to the ABA for standards that granted them long term contracts, perks on a par with tenured faculty, etc. and it took years to accomplish. Many faculties wanted to deny LW and clinical profs voting rights, even right to attend faculty meetings, committee appointments. Why? Because they had no respect for what they taught and how they taught it. Things have improved at most schools but doctrinal faculty do not think skills courses are on a par with what they teach and therefore, most of them would never "sink" to teaching LW and I do not think most would be very good at it for the reasons stated here by others and because the course is a hell of a lot of work to prep for, teach and grade. Far more so than teaching the same subject year in and year out with little need to prep or update material and then recycle exams every few years.

anon

Just saying - I would modify "doctrinal faculty look down" to "many doctrinal faculty look down." There are law schools that provide tenure to LRW faculty because the faculty as a whole recognizes the importance of the subject matter.

public interest lawyer

One of the problems with the current model of legal education is that doctrinal faculty does not change itself to emulate the legal writing faculty in its midst, but the other way around.

In every one of the many law schools at which I have teaching experience, the goal of the legal writing faculty has been to get the same terms and conditions of employment as doctrinal faculty -- not a bad goal in principle, but in practice it means lighter teaching loads, higher pay, more status, summer research money for trivial writing projects, etc. All of the unpleasant traits of doctrinal faculty -- entitlement, arrogance, uncollegiality, incivility -- become heightened in a group of faculty members who are resentful and frustrated because they rarely reach parity with other full-time teachers. (They might reach parity if they weren't chasing a moving target, but law professor salaries and benefits keep going up and up for no earthly reason.)

To make it worse, many legal writing teachers lack the elite academic credentials of the doctrinal faculty and are geographically tied to their localities so they cannot move up by moving on. Often they are decanal rather than faculty hires and, in any event, could not compete in the AALS job market. Even if they had practice experience coming in to teaching (which many of them don't) that quickly becomes stale and irrelevant.

The bottom line is that separate legal writing faculties as they have developed over the past fifteen years are part of the pathology of law schools, not part of the cure. There is no reason why there should be a job title called "Professor of Legal Writing." It's simply nonsense. Everyone on the faculty is a "Professor of Law" who teaches law courses in a law school.

There is no reason why every law professor shouldn't be willing, able, and indeed enthusiastic about taking on a first year writing seminar, on a regular basis, in addition to their other duties. No law school faculty can really claim that it is overworked these days. Most work three days a week for eight months of the year. Legal writing is the best teaching assignment in the law school and takes no expertise in any particular doctrinal field -- just some thought, experience, and collaboration with other teachers. Anyone who doesn't want to do that simply takes no satisfaction in teaching and shouldn't be teaching anything.

Just saying...

anon @4:57 - the doctrinal faculty that respect what LW and clinical faculty do are few and far between. Have you ever attended a LW or clinical conference? Both in panels and informally, there is so much complaining and angst about the poor treatment from doctrinal -- at least there used to be.

public interest lawyer is spot on in that the goal of both LW and clinical profs was to become just like the doctrinal folks both in terms of status and teaching areas. I know very few LW profs who did not harbor dreams of teaching a doctrinal course.

I have also heard that even at schools where peace had been established between LW and doctrinal faculty, the current financial problems facing many law schools has led many doctrinal profs to question why the LW profs are not let go and replaced with adjuncts. Also, many schools find themselves with too many LW profs now, given the drop in enrollment.

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