Monday, April 14, 2008

MobBlog at What Kind of Institution Do We Want a Law School To Be?

(The MobBlog is Over. Updated Links and Descriptions. Apologies for slight editorializing.)

Deven Desai kindly emailed me the following (as if I wasn't reading religiously, but I appreciate each and every personal email and link tip):

As you have followed and pondered the way in which legal education works, I wanted to let you know that is holding a mobblog about “What Kind of Institution Do We Want A Law School To Be?” So far Erwin Chemerinsky and Mike Madison have posted. Jim Chen (Dean, Louisville), Nancy Rapoport, (UNLV, former dean at Houston), and Rodney Smolla (Dean, Washington & Lee, former Dean at Richmond) have agreed to participate. In addition, Professors Ann Bartow, Al Brophy, Jack Chin, Dan Filler, Brett Frischmann, Christine Hurt, Rick Garnett, Greg Lastowka, Orly Lobel, Nate Oman, Frank Pasquale, Larry Solum, and Fred Yen will also share their thoughts on the topic.

Well, I do ponder the ways in which legal education works, inasmuch as I am still currently being educated and looking forward to being myself an educator. I am currently a different type of institutional citizen (the student), but at some not-too-distant point I will occupy a different institutional role entirely--that of a professor. It is a role that occupies not only a different place in the hierarchy, but a different physical space (in front of the lectern) and a different institutional space (as member of the faculty).

The life of law schools is embedded in its institutional structure: the administration determines the organizational culture and allocation of resources (and concomitant values), and articulated pedagogical goals determine the discursive space and intellectual life. Both work in confluence to produce a particular kind of scholarly reputation and student body. What kind of law school you want to be is, of course, a normative question, and I am pleased to see that most of the responses are normative in their orientation, and not merely caught up in purely descriptive terms of what courses should be required of first years, or a numbers-driven approach that focuses on how to improve US News rankings, etc. Update: I do not mean to imply that the structure of education does not matter at all--in fact, I am a vociferous proponent of teaching constitutional law in the first year, and for making civil procedure a one-year course at all law schools. But in the end, these smaller pedagogical preferences seem to matter less than a meta-theory of what a law school should be, as well as its very basic structure, as a school with a coherent pedagogical vision will absorb the small variations.

The MobBlog:

  1. Deven Desai kicks things off.
  2. Dean Erwin Chemerinsky on law schools for the 21st Century--e.g., the new law school at UC Irvine.
  3. Mike Madison on law schools and law firms, and what exactly is legal education for?
  4. Al Brophy: law schools should be mini-universities: interdisciplinary, drawing on the broad and varied expertise of its community.
  5. Nancy Rapoport on resistance to change, having prerequisites, and what law schools can learn from other schools.
  6. Nate Oman on putting the burden of experiential training on the students.
  7. Mike Madison asks some good questions about legal education, that will no doubt be endlessly debated.
  8. Alfred Yen suggests that law schools coordinate with other departments to create a collaborative, experience-based, problem-solving learning environment.
  9. Ann Bartow most interestingly suggests that law reviews only publish the work of their own school's faculty, thereby reducing fallacious distinctions and competitions in "placement" and improving the scholarship of each school and the quality of each journal.
  10. Nancy Rapoport on the ideal faculty for a law school: honest, engaged, mutually supportive (rather than competitive), conflict-resolving, student-developing, supportive of all types of scholarship and teaching, and fun.
  11. Deven Desai identifies a trend in all the posts: are lawyers generalists or specialists? Answering this question perhaps answers the question of what type of institutional model a law school should have.
  12. Al Brophy follows up on Ann's post, and says that law schools should focus on actual quality of scholarship, and not merely its placement in a journal as a proxy for quality.
  13. Christine Hurt resists the idea of a one-size-fits-all "perfect model" for a law school: law schools vary because the landscape of law is so varied.
  14. Dean Smolla of Washington & Lee on W&L's experiential-based model of learning.
  15. Dan Filler on "law school as community"--pay attention to the institutional life and be a good institutional citizen.
  16. Orly Lobel's very excellent post on how law schools might want to model themselves on the integrated professional/academic model of business schools, rather than having a two-tiered track of American JD/Foreign LL.M/SJD.
  17. Frank Pasquale on the learning curve of learning for lawyers in a rapidly changing, globalized, information economy.
  18. Mike Madison on the over-abundance of law schools and the changing economies of the legal profession.
  19. Frank Pasquale's interesting post on how law practice is not only a market-player, but also a market-shaper, and how legal education should thus take into account the moral ecology of markets.
  20. Dan Filler asks: is there a place for the single-sex law school, along the lines of Smith College?
  21. Frank Pasquale responds to accusations of academic Taylorism and skepticism about educational reform, albeit from a theory-loving, pessimistic academic from outside the legal academy.
  22. Deven Desai on the vision of law schools servicing a community.
  23. Al Brophy on the economics of education: law school is terribly expensive, the market for legal services is changing, and as he puts it for me helpfully, "amidst calls for more law schools, I question whether increased competition by adding schools will significantly decrease the costs of education."
  24. Mike Madison on gender and race in legal education: make reporting LSAT scores optional! This builds heterogeneity at the individual, and thus institutional, level.
  25. Alfred Yen: remove institutional affliliation from law reviews entirely!
  26. Rick Garnett argues for a model of institutional pluralism that finds a space for religion in education.
  27. Deven Desai stirs the pot with a post on the education gap: is undergraduate education failing to adequately prepare students for future study?
  28. Jim Chen's most excellent post on how law is an applied discipline, and thus there should be "fidelity in translation." Translate your legal scholarship into real-world results, and consider your responsibility to train your students with marketable skills and applicable, rather than esoteric, knowledge.
  29. Orly Lobel offers a partial, limited (but spirited) defense of law reviews.
  30. Deven Desai finishes things off with a call for a "renaissance education" model: law schools should always be open to change, resist path-dependency, and always strive for innovation and excellence.
Thanks to the folks at for a most interesting, productive discussion. I have been very interested to read this from my position on this side of the lectern, and such discussions will, I hope, shape the future generation of legal scholars. From a student's perspective, it is nice to know that such such issues are being considered so seriously and critically. Accusations of academic Taylorism aside, I think a strength of this discussion is to show that legal academia is opening itself to change: as its student body becomes more diverse, as the economics of the profession changes, as it confronts demands of globalism and an international economy, as it struggles to find its place among the wider university and the greater intellectual discourse, the legal academy stays static and uncompromising at its own peril.

Moreover, it is a mark of our discipline that we concern ourselves not merely with the pneumatic realm of ideas, text, and theory, but with the "real world"--laws impact real people in real ways, and we should feel a sense of responsibility about that. I, for one, am glad that we are finally moving beyond the model of legal education created when law schools were only for white men. To me, it's a good thing we're moving beyond a discussion of the wisdom of the C.C. Langdell casebook method, or a time when the Brandeis brief seemed revolutionary. (For more on the history of legal education, read this two-volume set, or if you have less time, this).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Law School Rankings Czar" Bob Morse defended the current law school ranking system. A summary of his comments can be found here:

4/12/2008 6:19 PM  

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