Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A great debate at WSJ's Law Blog

Today, Peter Lattman posted The Law: A Profession, a Trade or Both?, which pulls together Cameron Stracher's Meet the Clients op-ed and Law Is Still a Profession, Not an 18th-Century "Trade," a letter to the editor by Tamar Frankel and Wendy Gordon. I'm delighted that these three professors are bringing this topic to the popular press, as we've kept the discussion inside the academy for far too long. (For today's shameless self-promotion, see Is "Thinking Like a Lawyer" Really What We Want to Teach?)

The whole issue of whether "thinking like a lawyer" is the right mantra links to the larger issue of what law schools are supposed to do generally. I hope you'll weigh in here at MoneyLaw.


Blogger William Henderson said...

I largely agree with Cameron Stracher on this debate. I have a hard time giving much weigh to the "thinking like a lawyer" saw. What, exactly, does that mean beyond knowing how to deconstruct a case? And why, exactly, does it take three years to accomplish that pedagogical goal? I fear this mantra is a facile rationale for not changing a system that has many perks for law professors.

For the last 20 years, law school tuition has gone up much faster than most starting salaries. We have an obligation to make sure that the debt our students incur is a prudent investment in their futures.

It is time the legal academy began to focus on the problems and trends are affecting the legal profession today rather than an exclusive focus on the legal issues or scholarly debates that engage law faculty. If we do this, I am confident how and what we teach would change.


2/14/2007 2:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

William Henderson writes: "We have an obligation to make sure that the debt our students incur is a prudent investment in their futures."

Since when does the seller of a good or service have an obligation to make sure that the buyer is making a good investment? What distinguishes the purchase of a legal education from the purchase of a home, a car, or a meal at a restaurant? Buyers ought to take care to spend their money carefully. Villifying the seller isn't the way to go.

The reality is that some people who pay for law school are making a poor decision, while others are making a good one. The same is true for just about every other type of purchase in the US economy.

Law professors ought to worry about doing their jobs, legal teaching and research. Leave the investment advice to others!

2/14/2007 9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon missed the point, I think.

Would it be correct to say that Ford should keep cranking out the Pintos, and let the buyer beware of their propensity to explode?

As educators, rather than hucksters, law professors and their institutions have an obligation to ensure that their educational program has merit for those who enter the program. This is not limited to a financial net gain over tuition, but that factor certainly is a consideration. I think that the point is a simple one: the University exists for the students, and not for the adminstrators and professors. If the latter can't provide value to the students who enter, they are morally bankrupt if they keep soliciting students with glossy brochures and false promises.

Not everyone who graduates from law school benefits from the experience or suceeds. But isn't it part of our very character as educators to ensure that most students who study with us come with their eyes wide open and benefit in some measure, and that we accurately inform prospective students of how they might benefit?

2/15/2007 12:20 AM  
Blogger James Edward Maule said...

To anonymous: It has to do with truth in advertising. There's something wrong with schools of law ending up as schools of (legal) philosophy, advanced political science and similar elements of the S.J.D. degree. My determination to speak out against the ongoing shift in legal education was triggered by a colleague's comment 15 years ago, "We aren't here to train lawyers, we're here to teach legal philosophers." Sorry, but legal philosophers is far, far down the list of what this nation needs from its educational system.

2/15/2007 9:21 AM  
Blogger Jeffrey Harrison said...

In answer to the Mouse crticism of William Henderson my answer would be that the bargain between law schools and students are not arms length. We are in the awkward position of telling students what to buy and then selling to them. For me, that is part of the job.

2/15/2007 10:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think anonymous is confusing a legal obligation with a more moral one. The obligation referenced by Mr. Henderson may very well come from a professor's own feelings about what he and his colleagues are selling their students.

Even the most frontier libertarian (as I often tend to be) does not generally feel comfortable with the idea of misleading or otherwise merely "using" his customers. It may not always be required by law that he refrain from doing that, but basic norms of human interaction often require it.

2/15/2007 2:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In support of Bill Henderson's take . . . .

1. If we adopt Mouse's vision that the seller owes the buyer nothing, then we've adopted a purely commerical view of the school-pupil relationship. I can't imagine schools want that -- least of all when the schools wnat to come back calling for contributions over the years. How often does Toyota circle back to you for further charitable donations?

2. Even if it's a purely commerical relationship, as others have noted there is a valid consumer protection issue here. Buying a law degree is a huge investment and many of the purchasers are shockingly ignorant of what they're buying. How many students know, for example, that "historically, students who enter our school with LSATs of xyz and GPA of x.x have a 25% rate of getting their JD and passing the bar on the first try."

2/15/2007 3:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I often find myself wondering whether there is any reason to believe that most law professors know anything about "thinking like a lawyer." Recent hiring trends, especially at top-ranked schools, demonstrate that familiarity with the practice of law is not a priority within the academy. We therefore have a situation in which students incur enormous debt to learn how to practice law, while an ever-shrinking proportion of the faculty has any meaningful familiarity with what makes for success in the practice of law. My guess is that the pendulum has swung to far in one direction, and that market pressure -- if not from students, who lack much crucial information necessary to make informed career choices, from donors, who are largely successful lawyers increasingly dissatisfied with the what they receive from law schools -- will eventually force reform.

Larry Rosenthal
Chapman University School of Law

2/17/2007 1:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out my blog and all listings under the category of "How Law School Fails the Entrepreneur." Otherwise I would take up the whole page and then some on this topic. If law school fails its customers, it fails its mission. Its mission has gotten lost, its obligations to its students replaced by its obligations to U.S. News and World Report.
Susan Cartier Liebel

2/21/2007 5:17 PM  

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