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What is wrong with Legal Education?

I wasn’t going to post this, but the recent Auto Admit “scandal” makes me want to. I might have some involvement in the case, so I won’t comment upon it.

I’m no expert on the subject of legal education, but Kennon M. Sheldon and Lawrence S. Krieger claim to be, and did some research to back it up. Their study is available here.

Here’s some of their best stuff.

We would expect, for example, that students are generally seeking quality teaching and that they attend law school to learn to practice law. However, law schools traditionally emphasize theoretical scholarship and the teaching of legal theory, and many hire and reward faculty primarily based on scholarly potential and production. Our findings suggest that schools will benefit from reevaluating faculty priorities regarding such issues and from considering carefully the effect of their teaching methods and practices on students. Changes toward employing faculty with more teaching and lawyering (including public service) experience, offering a balance of practical skills training, or providing more training and rewards for teaching excellence might also ultimately enhance students’ sense of autonomy and engagement.

Yes, that is the nice way to say it.

The blunt way to say it? Law school breeds unhappiness because so many law professors are jerks and don’t care about their students. And why not? Law school generally rewards only selfish behavior, non-collaboration, and whining. My law school experience was awful. Most of my professors were there to further their outside careers, frequently didn’t even show up to class, and were dismissive, belittling, and rude to us.

My contracts professor actually threw a tantrum in class, slammed down his book, and stormed out because a student got the answer to a question wrong. I barely remember a thing from his class, but I will never forget that. Yes, he published a lot on critical race theory and all kinds of other stuff that makes liberal law schools go “ga ga.” But, I wasn’t paying $25,000 a year for that, I was there to learn. I learned nothing from him except a negative example of how to treat the people who are paying a hell of a lot of money to listen to me talk for a couple hours a week.

My property professor was a snoozer and a half. What can you say about a guy who just drones from a Gilbert’s outline? Off-text reading and research? Forget about it. Outside the box thinking? Worthless. He sure did publish on some interesting topics. Page after page of worthless dreck, but he was prolific.

What might make law school better?

At the Randazza School of Law, we would have the following rules:

  1. More respect: If you can’t treat your students with respect, why are you teaching? How you treat your students is setting an example for how they will treat other attorneys when they start to practice law. You are setting an example, act like it. Worse yet, at least one of your students will probably teach one day. Break the cycle NOW.
  2. Diversity. Much more diversity. I don’t just mean on racial lines. You do not have “diversity” when you use racial criteria to create the appearance of diversity, when all you really have is a Benetton ad. By that I mean everyone looks different, but the same crap is inside their heads. Stop being lazy about diversity and truly seek out a diverse body of experiences, interests, world views, and social classes. Such an approach would still result in racial diversity, but it would truly accomplish the underlying educational goal.
  3. No full time professors who have never had a “real job.” No professors without three years of real-world experience (and preferably much more). By that I mean working in a law firm, dealing with clients, and preferably using a billing pad (this is not to diss public interest lawyering experience – that should count too). Clerking, even at the Supreme Court, is nifty — but if you don’t know how your work will actually impact real bill-paying (or justice seeking) clients, what are you going to bring to your students that they couldn’t learn by reading a book? Your students are here to learn how to be lawyers. If you have never been one, then how are you going to help your students learn how to be one?
  4. Ok, one or two academic types. Lets caveat the above by saying that there can be one or two “ivory tower” types. The best (by far) law professor I had didn’t even have a JD — he had a Ph.D. So, I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with having academics as law professors, but lets make them the rarity, not the norm. If you never had a job, you had damn well better have a Ph.D. and something to offer beyond “I went to law school just so that I could teach law, which means I want to write law review articles and ignore my students.
  5. More cowbell. Wait, no, more adjuncts. See above. Helps a lot with career networking. Maybe it is because I am an adjunct, therefore I am biased. That disclosed, I think that my best teaching comes when I go from work to class and tie “what I did at work today” to “what you are going to learn today.” (I admit, I stole this idea from the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover), which I personally believe is the best law school in the country – yes, better than Georgetown.
  6. More ethics. There are a lot of lawyers who have no real respect for the profession and who make the rest of us look bad. Where do you think they learned that? Or, more likely, where did someone fail to teach that out of them? Law school. Teach client control. Teach ethics. Teach civility.
  7. Alma Mater Doesn’t Mater: I went to a so-called “top tier law school.” I also took classes at a second tier law school. I teach at a fourth tier law school. I took Bar/Bri at a third tier school. The difference in the students? Nada. Well, actually, I find more collegiality and less over privileged whiners at the lower tiers. Does that mean that I wouldn’t hire a professor who went to Yale? No. But what it does mean is that the whole law-school-pedigree game is bullshit. The first thing we do at the Randazza school of law is run a sharpie over the name of your alma mater, and then photocopy your C.V. I’m not impressed by my own alma mater (even though some people are)… I’m certainly not impressed by yours. Harvard, Yale, and Stanford contribute the most professors to the teaching pool. Legal education sucks. Therefore, HYS must be doing something wrong.
  8. More mentoring. Your responsibility neither ends when the bell tolls, nor after graduation. If you are a good professor, your students will trust you and turn to you for a long time. This should be the norm. My students have my home, office, and cell numbers and are invited to use them for the rest of their careers. Most of my professors seemed to have little time for me as a student, let alone an ex-student. Professors like that should be kicked to the curb.
  9. If you must publish, publish something useful. How many law review articles on the dialectical implications of title IX in gout victims critical race dichotomy and the dormant commerce clause as evidenced in the social and intra-familial relationships of the indigenous peoples of the Antarctic dichotomacitious theorem as evaluated in a mixed socialist and law and economics scale of measure for a ham sandwich do we really need? I’m not saying that we don’t benefit from scholars pushing the envelope or opening new legal doors, but for god’s sake. Most law review articles are never even read, let alone cited, let alone useful. My own included (A slight bit of irony, as I was writing this, apparently the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found one of my law review articles not only useful, but cited it twice).
  10. Credit for practice. We should encourage full time professors to have “side practices.” This brings the adjunct “real world” experience to the classroom. If their law review article production drops, all the better (see above). Hours of practice should count toward tenure as much, or more, than just another worthless law review article. Take sabbaticals to practice again, not to loaf around writing more dreck.
  11. Overhaul Career Services. Career services at most schools seems to be there to market the most marketable members of the student body to the biggest firms — the exact students and firms who need no help getting together. Create real incentives for career services — tie their income to actual placements just like real headhunters. Give a sliding scale of bonuses for placing lower ranked students. Lets face it, #1 in the class doesn’t need career services’ assistance. If they place him or her, the payoff should be a mere token. However, if you can actually place the anchorman, you’ve done something special.
  12. Dual track education. There are a lot of people who go to law school who have no intention of becoming a lawyer. Fine, they offer a lot to the process as well, but law schools should offer a “Masters Degree in Legal Studies” alongside a Juris Doctor degree. Students can take the MDLS at the end of their third semester and then they can just boogie. If they ever want to come back and do second half later, then they should be able to. This way, the students who are in law school “just because they don’t know what else to do right now,” (and there are a lot of them) will be able to exit early and still have something to show for their effort, but they wont be mucking up the legal system when they are forced to practice law because there is no other profession available to them that will allow them to repay their student loans.
  13. NOBODY admitted straight out of college. Your Bachelor’s degree must be at least one year old before you can commence your studies. This will eliminate a lot of the “soul searchers” and the “my parents told me to go here” students. Not that I mind having those types in class — in fact this kind of student often contributes the most to class. I would like the soul searchers to continue to attend law school. Nevertheless, I want them to be given a “cooling off searching period,” because I don’t want them subjected to three years of high tuition and commitment when they aren’t really enthusiastic about practicing law or getting a legal education. Give them time to find themselves before law school. The “I’m in this for the money” crowd will be cut back too. No wait to attend business school, where you are likely to land a better paying job.

This manifesto is subject to change, and more rules may be applied in the future.

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