I realize that law school deans need to “sell” their product and industry to a variety of groups, including would-be students. But sometimes, dean-speak is so bizarre you have to wonder if the dean gave even minimal thought before spinning a particular yarn. To continue with my new field of interdisciplinary study, Community and the Law, let’s begin with our baseline dean: Community’s Craig Pelton, Dean of the fictional
. Dean Pelton recently bragged that his school
is “now ranked fifth . . . on Greendale
Community College Colorado’s
alphabetical listing of community colleges.”
That claim pretty much speaks for itself. And unfortunately, some real-life law school
deans appear to be using Dean Pelton as their role model.
Legal education is often compared unfavorably to medical education. Two big differences are that: (a) law professors, unlike medical professors, typically have never (or barely) practiced their craft before joining the ranks of the professoriate; and (b) law schools, unlike medical schools, do a poor job of training students in anything practical. And because of these dramatic shortcomings, there is a serious argument that law schools should simply be replaced with apprenticeship programs. (My coauthor Amy Kushner wrote about how it is currently possible to get a law license this way in some states.)
To this, Dean Chemerinsky of UC-Irvine responded that: (1) when you need medical attention, you want doctors who were educated at top schools and trained by experts; (2) the same holds true for when you need a lawyer; and (3) ergo, law schools are better than apprenticeships at training future lawyers.
If you are going to defend law schools, you at least have to know the arguments against your position and the flaws in your product. Further, when making an analogy, you have to know something about the thing to which you are analogizing. Much like Dean Pelton’s claim, this one speaks for itself. (Hint: review (a) and (b), above, and then decide for yourself whether points (2) and (3) of the dean’s argument make any sense.) In short, Dean Chemerinsky’s blather has been called “the worst analogy in the long and storied history of analogies.”
One of the criticisms of law professors is that they have limited (if any) experience, sometimes don’t even hold a law license, and in some cases never even went to law school. (That’s right, Ph.D.s in non-law subjects are infiltrating the law school professoriate, especially at the so-called top law schools that are constantly trying to distance themselves from the nitty-gritty of law practice and now, apparently, even from lawyers.) This criticism of professors is often expressed by lawyers — especially litigators — in something like the following rant: “I hated law school; those professors never spent a single day in the trenches, yet we had to listen to them drone on for three years.”
Despite this common criticism, however, law schools and law professors were never seriously challenged — until their graduates started incurring staggering debt loads and were unable to find legal work, thus giving rise to the scam-blog movement. This movement has been called a “war on law schools.” And what does Dean Rodriguez of Northwestern say about this ongoing war? He said that professors are “in the trenches” and are “relentlessly under threat,” yet are holding strong.
Tip to this dean: you can’t take an analogy that doesn’t fit and, worse yet, has actually been used effectively against you — i.e., “professors have never spent a single day in the trenches” — and just decide to start using it in reverse. (Well, I guess you can if you don’t mind being mocked for it.) Writing law review articles and “teaching” via the Socratic Method can’t, in any way, be considered “the trenches.” (I’ve written plenty of law review articles, and I would be hard-pressed even to call it work, let alone trench work.) It would be more defensible for a college with a club-level football team to start calling itself Linebacker-U. But then, this is the dean who wants his incoming law students to have prior work experience, while his professors — including clinical professors — seem to have no comparable legal-practice requirement.
I’ve saved my favorite for last. After the scam-blog movement publicized, well, the law school scam, the number of law school applicants predictably plummeted and continues to fall. As a result, law schools are in panic mode, and will now admit nearly any
applicant federal student loan conduit who
applies. Today, nearly everyone who
applies will get in somewhere. In fact, many
law schools have adopted Dean Pelton’s motto at Greendale:
“You’re already accepted.” But, as you
might guess, when you accept nearly everyone who applies, some of them will
emerge on the other end of the educational process unable to pass the bar exam.
Dean Furrulo of
San Diego (and many
other deans, actually) claim that the problem lies not with the quality of
student admitted under their schools’ near open-enrollment policies, but rather
with the bar exam itself! The test is
just not fair, they say, and is an unnecessary “barrier to entry” into the
legal profession. Deans love to use economic
terminology in an effort to cloud the obvious.
And in this situation, “the obvious” is that law schools are actually a three-year, $150,000-plus barrier to entry. (Again,
deans, know your product’s flaws and the arguments against your position before
you start rambling.)
In any case, blaming the bar exam instead of the academic quality of their student bodies just won’t fly. Why not? Because professors — legal academia’s soldiers who are “in the trenches” — are already holding academic conferences titled “Teaching the Academically Underprepared Law Student.” One article even calls it the new normal. This is so rich in chocolately goodness that any further comment on my part would simply spoil it.
These three examples of “deans say the darnedest things” simply must have a common thread. Perhaps all of these deans did their undergraduate work at
Greendale Community College, and,
like Knightly — see his Greendale ID card at the top of this post — majored in Circle