Should Law School Be More Than Just a 'Sorting Mechanism' for Potential Employers?
A lively discussion is underway at The Volokh Conspiracy blog on the issue of whether law schools hire the wrong type of people to be professors by overemphasizing "elite academic credentials at the expense of practical knowledge and experience." More broadly, the debate there is over whether law school should be a "trade school" or rather a place of scholarship where students gain academic and theoretical insights about the law.
The post by Jonathan Adler cites a new paper by Georgetown adjunct professor Brent Newton who asks:
Could [a typical law school] professor whose primary
scholarly interest is criminal law and procedure effectively prosecute
or represent a criminal defendant at a felony trial? Could such a
professor who writes law review articles about the First Amendment
effectively represent a client in a civil rights litigation? Could such
a professor whose expertise is securities regulation effectively
represent a client or the government in an S.E.C. enforcement action?
Imagine such professors being first-chair counsel in a complex civil or
criminal litigation who must interview potential witnesses, take
depositions and engage in electronic discovery, file and respond to
summary judgment motions, conduct voir dire, present the testimony of
an expert witness, cross-examine (and impeach) hostile witnesses, and
make closing arguments to a jury.
Newton clearly thinks not, and adds: “How can we expect law students to become competent
practitioners if the core of full-time law faculties, notwithstanding
their scholarly prowess, do not themselves possess even the basic
skills required to practice the type of law about which they teach
The post also cites to some provocative thoughts by Professor Stephen Bainbridge, who takes Newton's argument to the next level (and then some) in this post on his blog. Prof. Bainbridge says that as far as he can tell, these days law schools hiring professors focus almost solely on qualifications that do not have a "goddamn thing to do with the practice of law" such as "having a PhD" or "having multiple publications, even if they demonstrate the author's
utter lack of doctrinal knowledge or inability to do basic legal
Adler ends by stating:
As Bainbridge notes, the question today is whether the collapsed legal
market will cause law schools to reevaluate their priorities and
recommit themselves to preparing students for the practice of law (as
opposed to providing little more than a sorting mechanism for potential
The debate continues in the comments to the post. "Chris" comments:
the idea that law schools should be truly liberal
academic institution is part of the problem. Law is a trade and I think
that vast majority of people who enter law school are interested in
learning to practice that trade.... If people want
to write law review articles, they should charge their audience for
them. It should not be subsidized by a trade school. I don’t see
plumbers paying other non-practicing plumbers to write about how
critical race theory effects piping.
Commenter "frankcross" disagrees, however:
This relies on a silly presumption. Most political science professors
wouldn’t make good politicians. Most economists may not be good
businessmen. And natural scientists who study botany would make lousy
plants. There is no necessary reason why a person who studies and
teaches something necessarily must be good at doing that thing.
Posted by Bruce Carton on August 27, 2010 at 11:04 AM | Permalink
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