Sunday, January 18, 2015

Another gem from the state bar

The state bar has been serving up a lot of softballs.  Its most recent came in the form of an email, asking me to donate thirty minutes of my time for its latest dues-funded project: a survey on how to improve law schools.  “This survey,” the bar promises me, will “undoubtedly advance the profession.”  That’s a bold claim, and one that I seriously doubt.  But I might have participated were it not for an even bolder claim: the bar tells me to donate my time because “educating tomorrow’s lawyers is a shared responsibility.”

I’m pretty sure that’s not true.  Instead, I’m pretty sure that law professors are responsible for “educating tomorrow’s lawyers.”  Let’s take a look at some numbers to support my novel claim: 

First, law profs get paid a lot of money.  Here’s a nice link to recent law professor salaries at a couple dozen law schools.  The median tenured prof salary at Iowa Law, for example, was $199,800 for the 2012-13 school year.  (You have to add the base salary to the “summer stipend.”)  Probably more typical is the Nebraska Law median of $161,720.  On the other hand, some places pay much more.  When you count other creative payment schemes such as “forgivable loans,” Texas Law, for example, has paid “much of its senior faculty between $320k and $410k per year.”

Second, these salaries are funded by — you guessed it — the students.  Well, not really the students.  They’re just the “student loan conduits” that are used to funnel money from the lenders to the law schools.  But still, they’re on the hook for the non-dischargeable debt.  Well, not really, because politicians like to float loan forgiveness programs, in which case we taxpayers will ultimately foot the bill.  But for now, let’s just say that students are paying for it by taking on an average debt load of $150,000.

So, there you have it: law students pay law profs to teach them; law profs cash their paychecks; ergo, “educating tomorrow’s lawyers” is the responsibility of law profs. 

But, according to a recent article by Paul Campos, many new law profs don’t have any experience actually practicing law, and those who do have experience average only 1.4 years in rather rarefied (i.e., non-courtroom) settings.  Worse yet, a growing contingent of law profs don’t even have law degrees but instead have a Ph.D. in one of the social sciences.  (The Ph.D. in economics is currently the degree du jour among the elite law schools.)

So even though law profs have the responsibility to educate tomorrow’s lawyers, the real question is whether they’re up to the task.

1 comment:

  1. Michael
    Another very important well-articulated rumination. Generally, law professors are not up to the task. The problems are many and have been pointed out by Paul Campos who you mention along with Brian Tamanaha in his book, "Failing Law Schools." And get this, not that long ago, a Drexel law school professor actually floated the idea of law schools mandating their faculty members to satisfy what she called, a "Continuing Practice Experience" (CPE) Requirement. Assuming, that is, that they ever practiced law in the first place! The law review article is worth reading if for no other reason than infuriation at the pointy-headedness. From the Abstract:
    "This article considers whether law professors should have a Continuing Practice Experience (CPE) requirement, just as lawyers in most jurisdictions have a Continuing Legal Education (CLE) requirement. In the face of criticisms of legal education for failing to prepare students to be practicing lawyers and for generating scholarship that is of little to no use to practicing lawyers and judges, CPE offers one way to facilitate a connection between legal education and law practice. This article considers the potential benefits of CPE (and reasons why law professors might be resistant to CPE). The article also discusses ways in which the American Bar Association’s Standards for the Accreditation of Law Schools and the Association of American Law Schools’ Statement of Good Practices by Law Professors could be revised to adopt (or, at least, endorse) CPE. Finally, the article addresses two questions relating to the development of a CPE requirement: specifically, what types of activity should “count” as CPE and how much of such activity should law professors have to engage in?"
    Download the article via this link: