Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Beyond ratings: Actually doing our jobs

Socialist realismThe Conglomerate has rightfully devoted careful attention to Larry Gavin's recent SSRN post, The Strange Death of Academic Commercial Law. Christine Hurt and Vic Fleischer have each posted thoughtful proposals for reconfiguring the law school curriculum to bring this venerable and valuable subject back to legal academia.

Vic's suggestion warrants further elaboration in this forum. There is something to be said for reconfiguring the law school curriculum, especially in a third year that is as widely wasted as it is dreaded, according to the functional needs of new lawyers rather than the intellectual predilections of sinecured professors or, even worse, those professors' personal convenience.

Short of a comprehensive restructuring of the upper-level law school curriculum -- which after all is the sort of proposal that sinks tenure petitions, ends deanships, and generally withers otherwise promising academic careers -- perhaps we can consider a more modest intermediate step. Every law school student should complete a six-credit, two-semester "capstone" sequence as part of her or his third-year experience. Relying strictly on my personal arsenal of curricular weapons, I could conceivably offer full-year sequences in economic regulation (from antitrust to full-blown, command-and-control regulation of entry and rates), agricultural law and agribusiness law, the law of disasters, or natural resource and public lands management, among other possibilities. These are not offerings that lend themselves to a single 2-, 3-, or 4-credit course. In the tradition of, say, sports and entertainment law, they undertake to explain an entire way of doing business and to integrate such bodies of law as may be pertinent -- all from a prospective client's perspective rather than the professor's idiosyncratic view of the field. Team teaching, skills training, and clinical experience can all be incorporated into this capstone sequence.

Of course, an academy that is paralyzed by fear of The Ratings will be loath to try something different, no matter how sensible or how useful the alternative might be. The question therefore must be asked: To what extent does mastering the art of winning an unfair academic game keep us from doing our jobs?


Blogger Lori Ringhand said...

I've got nothing to say about baseball, but do have some thoughts about the female law clerk situation. ... Until time proves otherwise, I am inclined to accept Justice Breyer's statement that this year's dip in the number of female clerks is probably a random variation. I therefore have been much more troubled by the response to this story than to the story itself. Two things in particular disturb me. First, several commentators have cited this as yet another example of young women "opting out" of high pressure, high profile jobs. Oh really? Go tell the thousands of women starting this fall as first year associates in large law firms that they making any such choice. It is ludicrous. Second, the ubiquitous chatter about how women aren't graduating at the top of the top law schools, aren't the EIC's of the top law reviews, etc., implicitly accepts that there is some objective standard of "merit" that these women aren't meeting. Again, really? Look at Brian Leiter's data of Supreme Court Clerkship Placements. Were the three clerks who graduated at or near the top of their class from the University of Kansas more objectively qualified than the woman who graduated 10th in her class from Harvard? What about the three BYU clerks - were they more qualified than someone who was an articles editor rather than an EIC at Harvard? Maybe, maybe not (I'm all in favor of increasing the range of schools clerks come from) but let's not pretend that there is some straightforward way of defining merit in this selection process.
Lori Ringhand | 09.01.06 - 5:13 am |

9/01/2006 10:20 AM  
Anonymous Alan Gunn said...

I wonder whether the decline in commercial law relates to the great value now placed on clerkships in hiring faculty. My sense of things (i.e., guess) is that law faculties today have a much higher portion of former litigators than was the case thirty years or so ago, and it's mostly the would-be litigators who go for clerkships. They aren't people likely to pick up commercial law as a teaching or research subject.

My own curmudgeonly opinion is that clerkships and litigtion backgrounds ought to count against a faculty candidate.

9/10/2006 10:19 PM  

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