Friday, November 07, 2008

Are We Done Yet?

I worry that the posts to Moneylaw seem to have fallen off (in quantity, not quality). I really enjoyed reading the views of the original core of writers. So, what's up?

But, by asking "are we done yet" I am not referring to Moneylaw and other blogs remaining from the "blog boom." It's more about public legal education. It seems like the ideal outcome in terms of legal training is the absence of public law schools. In other words, whatever public legal education produces would be produced in sufficient quantity and quality by private markets. Unless public legal education is just a device for redistributing income (in which case we could just write checks and forgo the huge expense of what would amount to money laundering) this must be the case. When the "public good" rationale is no longer viable, doesn't it mean the end of public legal education? I am not sure, but it seems like most would agree.

If so, how does that square with so many efforts to "build programs." I do not mean programs that generate income or pay for themselves but efforts 1) to offer new programs to attract students who otherwise would have no interest in law school 2) to compete for students who have more than enough choices. One explanation is that each School spends its money most effectively when it educates the best students, and not those who are likely to squander the public investment. That's a nice idea but how does that square with measuring success by placing students with high end law firms where the benefits of the training are most likely to be internalized by the students, partners, and well-heeled clients. And, how does it square with empire building that seems unrelated to any sense of obligation to shareholders. Pretty clearly, even when public legal education is done in the sense the public good rationale is gone (if it is not already) public law schools and various faculty special interests will be slugging it out to "build their programs."

This reminds of a odd interaction this week that falls into the category of is it "economics or ethics." At a meeting I expressed my now boring view that a public law school should study a state's needs and shape its curriculum accordingly. (I am such a broken record on this that I am surprised no one has said, "No reason to talk, Jeff. We know what you are getting ready to say." But when you think about it this could apply to most law professors. Most faculties could save time by canceling all faculty meetings and just alert people when someone has something new to say.) At my law school most graduates stay in the State and most work for relatively small firms. The competing position was that should adopt a curriculum that would make the students attractive in the national market most notably large law firms. Frankly, not much separates these views and it's a good faith debate that probably goes on at most mid level schools. After the meeting, I was told that it was interesting to hear the economic perspective Huh?!! Is it a matter of economics to believe those who pay the bills deserve the benefits of their investment? Or is it a matter of simple ethics and the observance fiduciary obligations?


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

Your first question is posed to your fellow bloggers. But FWIW, I think the answer is exhibited by what follows. The quality and quantity of posts here could be improved by making discrete points. This addresses the merits of public legal education (and the continuing viability of a public goods rational); program building (and its varied rationales); and economics v. ethics and local v. national markets. These are related topics, certainly, and lots of great ideas in them. But maybe it's better to disaggregate them -- more posts! -- and solicit better feedback.

Since I am railing (and I hope, as always, that you feel free to disapprove this comment), I think this blog is threatened by its mood -- which is less "how can law schools get better, including through MoneyLaw type competitive strategies," than "everyone on the faculty, with the possible exception of me, is a self-dealing shirker who ignores the shareholders/students." I don't agree with that depiction, and suspect it wears a little thin. In any event, the better question is how to change it or harness it, not how creatively to remark ruefully about it.

11/08/2008 3:24 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

Ani: Thanks for the comment. The counterpart of the decrease in the number of posts is the infrequency of commentary. When no one comments to a post it often means that what is said is so unthreatening or even thought provoking that it can be ignored. In short, it's irrelevant. Could this be the case with Moneylaw? I do not know. Readership is decent so at least there are a fair number of observers.

I agree that the focus of moneylaw seems to have drifted from the idea of moneyball priciples. To some extent it may be that the basics have been written about so many times that it is hard to think of new variations. For example, can we really write the 100th time about discounting credentials?

I have looked through the post and can find no reference to "everyone." People who read my posts are prone to "hear" that because then it's easier to discount them rather than ask if there is some truth there.
Nevertheless, it seems to me at least that it is rare that someone says we should do something in legal education simply because it's the right thing to do when spending the money of others.

I am not even sure that it takes a majority of shirkers to reshape a law school's personality. Plus, my observation is that people will talk about non self-serving values privately more readily that publicly. Is it because everything public is ultimately a negotiation? In addition, I think a law school administration could set a tone by drawing some lines that say "on my watch we are just not going to do that." It's a long way of saying that it's not everyone. Still the ability of shirkers to infect the whole is puzzling to me.

Oh, to head off two other generalization critics like to jump to, 1)I assume my own school is no better or worse than any others 2) I try hard but find myself giving into shirking too.

11/09/2008 9:23 AM  
Blogger Ani Onomous said...

Thanks for the gracious reply. I have no insight into what the infrequency of commentary means or how it can be remedied, but I know I am more likely to comment if the original post is on a discrete topic, and if my comment generates a response (which is in your discretion, but makes a difference).

I actually think there's a lot more that might be made of moneyball principles, but that its coin is being tarnished by casual use here.

As to "everyone," I was not reacting so much to your most recent post as to the overall feel of those from you and Jim Chen. I don't think I'm so much prone to exaggerating that aspect (because I supposedly wish to avoid asking whether there is truth to the assertions) than you are to minimize it, but we would be expected to differ on that -- perhaps others can opine. It is wholly unsurprising to me, however, that direct accusations of privatistic behavior are infrequently made . . . I'd sooner expect faculty to start cutting one another off on grounds of windiness. We differ mainly on how prevalent the bad behavior is, and how best you articulate your case for changing it.

11/09/2008 2:19 PM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

I am happy to even have someone agree there is some bad behavior. The question then is how to address it. Obviously, pointing it out is a dead end.

11/09/2008 2:53 PM  

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