Thursday, June 10, 2010

Do Law Schools Golf?

I used to ask my students whether they would be golfers or football players when they graduated. The distinction I was trying to make was between golf, a sport in which players observe the rules and actually report themselves with they violate them, and football, where there are also rules but the idea is to bend them and disregard them and hope not to be caught. So, a lineman holds a charging defensive end and it's a great play as long as he is not caught. In golf it is a matter of observing social norms or even principle. In football it is strictly a cost benefit analysis.

When I ask whether law schools golf I mean both the faculty and the institutions as a whole. For the institutions the best example to which these standards could be applied is the information that forms the basis of the USN&WR rankings. I'd say that the schools fit the football player model — it is not cheating unless you are caught.

How about faculties? The example here might be teaching evaluations and I'd say it is mixed. To be a golfer means to do what is best for the students to prepare them for practicing law. Sometimes that clashes with high teaching evaluations. For example, you may be a stickler for attendance, preparation and being on time because you believe those practices are consistent with professionalism in practice. On the other hand, you may not stress those things because you may then be regarded as being disrespectful and if your dean is big on student evaluations and keeping the students happy it's not a good thing for you. I will forgo the list of ways teachers can game the student evaluations. If enough people game them they become irrelevant. My own view is that even when not gamed only the very low ones or the very high ones signal that something is amiss in the classroom. Yes, I did say even very high ones are suspect — even on the rare occasions I get them.

So if law school administrations are operating by football player rules and a significant number of law professors are doing the same, what does that suggest about the example set for students. Should we expect them to do what we say or to do as we do?

I actually do not know but I hope it is not the latter. Maybe their parents have taught them golfing rules. On the other hand, many years ago a friend whose daughter filled the newspaper racks around campus told me that the only machine where there were consistent more papers taken than money left was the Law School. That is football player behavior and not a good sign.


Blogger Ani Onomous said...

If you are focusing simply on rulebreaking with impunity, try using the example of soccer.

Otherwise, though, asking whether someone is a golfer or football player has the aggregate inquiry backwards. Golfers may blow the whistle on themselves, but they are otherwise independent operators. Football players are not. A golfer would hand out the evaluations and exploit the absence of rules on classroom efficacy. A football player would understand the importance of teamwork and loyalty to the common enterprise.

7/07/2010 12:04 AM  

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