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Thank you Brent Newton – American Legal Education is Worthless

By Randazza and DeVoy

Brent Newton, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown, wrote a law review article about how professors writing law review articles is a waste of time. The article, Preaching What They Don’t Practice: Why Law Faculties’ Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy, is actually worth reading … which is rather unusual for a law review article.

my thesis is that it will not be possible to implement such proposed curricular and pedagogical reforms if law schools continue their trend of primarily hiring and promoting tenure-track faculty members whose primary mission is to produce theoretical, increasingly interdisciplinary scholarship for law reviews rather than prepare students to practice law. Such “impractical scholars,” because they have little or no experience in the legal profession and further because they have been hired primarily to write law review articles rather than primarily to teach, lack the skill set necessary to teach students how to become competent, ethical practitioners. (source)

That is a very polite and professional way of saying what I have been saying since the inception of this blog — law professors are a bunch of worthless gasbags running a ponzi scheme, and most (not all) should be dragged out into the street and have beehives shoved up their asses for the part they play in financially ruining thousands of kids a year — to say nothing for the destruction they help wreak upon the legal profession, which in turn leaves thousands of desperate lawyers who pull every manner of legal stunt to simply stay alive. Parasites breeding parasites. That is what most law professors are.

But back to Newton. His article is absolute blasphemy in the legal academy, and probably means that he will forever remain the sneered-at adjunct. I got that a lot when I was one — oh, you’re just an adjunct, not a professor.

Newton notes that adjuncts are the lowest of the low:

At the bottom of the order of law faculty are adjunct professors, who generally are treated like nobodies by the regular law faculty.

I am happy to report that this was not my experience when I was an adjunct at Barry. In fact, I was treated very well there by all my colleagues. But, once off that campus, especially when exchanging ideas with other “law professors” and particularly in the blawgosphere, that was the refuge they would run to during a vicious pwning.

Like the Indian caste system, a comparison Newton makes in his article, the academy delegates the “dirty work” to an immobile class of practitioners, adjuncts and other non-tenure track faculty.  Beyond schools’ Legal Research and Writing (LRW) curriculum, clinical programs remain the last bastion of useful hands-on experience in meeting deadlines, solving new problems and managing client expectations.

Despite providing some of the most value-added experiences most law students will have during their legal education, clinical professors lack the ability to attain tenure, or even full the same privileges and status of full tenure track faculty.  Even considering the value provided by clinical coursework, they remain optional at all but a few schools like Washington & Lee, which have adopted an intense practical curriculum.  This isn’t merely harmful for new lawyers, but potentially disastrous for their clients.

So let’s see what Newton shares some data with us about the experience levels of these “law professors” who sneer at adjuncts.

The amount of prior practical experience differed significantly by tier. For instance, for the schools in tier one, the median was 1 year and the mean was 1.92 years; 46.8% of the entry-level tenure-track professors hired by these schools since 2000 had no prior practical experience. Conversely, for the schools in tier four, the median was 6 years and the mean was 7.58 years; 85.8% of those professors had some amount of prior practical experience.

In other words, the higher ranked the school, the more worthless the professors — the less they actually know about the job they are teaching you to do. Next time someone makes fun of you for attending a TTT, maybe you should wipe the floor with them with the knowledge your TTT law professor gave you, while your top tier counterparts were learning from someone who was hired most likely on the basis of their skin color, gender, and how they managed to whine about both in law review articles.

Also contributing to this worthlessness is the over-academization of the legal academy.  A top J.D. isn’t enough anymore, and often needs to be supplemented with a Ph.D. – if not supplanted by one.

In the late 1980s, five percent of full-time law professors had Ph.D.s.  By the end of the twentieth century, 10.4 percent of new tenure-track hires had Ph.D’s (13.4% at “top 25 schools”). Just a decade later, by 2010, that percentage had grown significantly, particularly at the highly ranked schools. My own study of a representative sample of entry-level tenure-track professors hired between 2000-09 (excluding clinicians, LRW professors, and other “practical” faculty) revealed that 18.9 percent possessed Ph.D.’s in addition to or in lieu of a law degree. Professors with Ph.D.’s constituted 35.5 percent of such tenure-track faculty members hired since 2000 by the first ten schools in tier one of the USNWR rankings.

While a Ph.D. is an impressive investment of time – quality varies widely outside of the top programs in each field, and whether it’s worthwhile depends on individual levels of funding – it doesn’t help create better lawyers.  It doesn’t necessarily breed better faculty, either.  Just look who you get when you hire like that! (But, in all fairness, the best law professor I ever had didn’t have a JD at all — he had a Ph.D. only!)

For example, teaching law students about game theory is all well and good within the ivory tower, but it doesn’t help them, and may even hurt, if it’s done at the expense of skills like writing and critical thinking.  Those skills matter a hell of a lot more than being able to properly graph the probabilities frontier of settlement negotiations in a $35,000 case.  Try explaining that bill to your client.

Newton realizes that this characteristic, along with the homogeneity of the same ten schools producing most of the nation’s legal academy, creates a certain feedback loop.  Because only the top students from top schools are hired into the academy, judged by their experience in snagging elite clerkships and publishing in the highest ranked law reviews, there is scant room for practical experience.  Yet the system persists for a few reasons.  The first is economic: Fundamentally exclusive credentials, such as Court of Appeals or Supreme Court clerkships, are held by a vanishingly small group, and thus greatly valued by the academy.  The second is a matter of value justification, as faculty members who went to Harvard and published in the Harvard Law Review feel their escutcheon would be tarnished by hiring someone with lesser credentials, the legal academy’s equivalent to identifying with lepers as equals.

Even in the publishing of Newton’s article, which is forthcoming in the University of South Carolina Law Review, the class bias of legal academia is on display.  Like law schools, even law reviews are ranked.  Though the South Carolina Law Review outperforms the school’s US News ranking, it’s blasphemy for a piece as important as Newton’s not to be in the highest ranked publication it could have conceivably been in.  This is especially true as the traditional walk-of-the-penguins path from earning good grades in law school to being an associate at a well-heeled firm vanishes for many students, leaving them to rely on skills they never developed or had any idea they’d need.  But, surely, whatever critical theory shit about how federal land use law displaces quadriplegic Inuit lesbians from their native homes that took the place of Newton’s article in a more visible journal will be important – essential, really – in the history of legal thought.

We must thank Newton for making this point for all the reasons stated above.  Based on my experience in practice, where you go to school doesn’t mean much except what firms interviewed you at OCI.  While every school produces bad lawyers, the upper crust of legal education has no monopoly on creating good ones.

More importantly, the lack of vital skills afflicting new lawyers needs to be brought to all current and prospective students’ attention so they can take clinical coursework and ameliorate the gaps in their training.  Knowing that such deficiencies exist is the first battle in the war of legal education.  Too many law students assume that going to law school and passing the bar exam will be sufficient to practice, and the schools’ professors and administrators – themselves woefully inexperienced – do not do enough to correct this misconception.

Finally, this is an issue that affects all of us.  Tenured faculty live a life of symposia and leisurely thinking on the backs of the serfs, much like the Roman elites who drank wine all day and had orgies at night while the masses toiled and the empire crumbled.  Although individual students make the promise to pay $40,000 each year to subsidize this nonsense, and at 8.5% interest, we’re all paying for it now that student lending has become a government function — both for the principal and the inevitable default on junk loans taken out for nothing of value.

This should be the beginning of a slow clap for Brent Newton, and his gumption to write a piece that unites various threads that have been the zeitgeist of practitioners for years.  That the legal academy does not care to hear it is their own fault, and done at its peril.

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