Monday, September 1, 2014

Legal education and sloppy thinking

For the first few years of my law practice, I was amazed at how emotional prosecutors and judges could be.  That’s not to say that these two groups yell and scream in court — well, they often do, but that’s not my point.  Rather, what I mean is that they decide ahead of time what they want, and then will offend logic and reason, and even ignore basic facts and law, in reaching their predetermined outcome.  When the prosecutor does this, it’s just bad argument from an overzealous advocate hell-bent on winning at all costs; when the judge does this — well, I don’t know what you’d call it, but it’s even more offensive.  In any case, I’ve often said that the willingness and ability to function this way flows naturally from law school — the place where, in most classes, there is never a wrong answer and every point of view, no matter how absurd, is treated as equally valid.  And I just love it when law school deans say things that prove my point.

By way of background, anyone even marginally interested in legal education knows that law schools are on the ropes.  Given their misleading employment data, the staggering cost of attendance, and incredibly poor job prospects, applications to law schools have plummeted.  And we’re now just starting to see the impact of this, including plummeting annual revenues, faculty and staff layoffs, tenured faculty buyouts, and even a law school closure.

In light of all of this, at least one law school dean has predetermined the conclusion he wants to reach: everything is just fine in the world of legal education, and this decline in applicants, revenue, etc., is only temporary.  

Okay, the conclusion has been reached, so now the dean needs to find some evidence to support it.  That’s easy: the dean’s school has seen a 25 percent increase in applicants!

End of story, right?  Well, not really.  Now to the part about ignoring facts and offending logic and reason.  It turns out that the dean forgot to mention that applicants to his school increased because he cut the application fee from $75 to $0.  It doesn’t take an economist to know that when something falls in price from $75 to $0, more people will want it.  But it gets even better: the data actually disproves the yarn that the dean is spinning.  Law school critic Paul Campos writes:

Leaving aside the dishonesty and/or cluelessness of touting an increase in demand that’s almost wholly the product of a 100% price cut, [the dean’s] crack about “the market’s” comeback . . . makes no sense on its face, since he’s boasting about how well [his law school] is doing in comparison to a steep ongoing decline at other law schools. (Note that even with the increase produced by its new giveaway strategy, applications to [his law school] are still down 25% relative to four years ago.) 

So with this kind of sloppy thinking going on at law schools, it’s no wonder that it’s so prevalent in the courtroom.  But fear not, prosecutors and trial judges: you’ll still be able to get away with it.  For the most part, no journalist cares about what goes on in local trial courts, unless the defendant is accused of something deemed newsworthy in which case the journalist might share your predetermined conclusion of guilt and will not even report on the details.

But the law school industrial complex, on the other hand, has ruined the financial lives of many people who are presumed innocent of all wrongdoing.  And as a result, the absurd utterances of law school profs and deans are constantly being monitored, exposed, and criticized by blogs like Lawyers, Guns & Money, Law School Tuition Bubble, Outside the Law School Scam, Law School Truth Center, Third Tier Reality, and Above the Law, to name only a few. 

Given this heightened scrutiny, I have some free advice for law school deans and profs: “You have the right to remain silent.  Exercise it.” 

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