Extra, Extra! Read All About It. NY Times Says Law Schools Charge a Lot of Money But Don’t Teach Their Students How to Be Lawyers.Sunday, November 20th, 2011
Today’s must reading is David Segal, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering, N.Y. Times, November 20, 2011, at p. A1 – click here. Its point is that law schools don’t teach their students how to be lawyers. We noted the same thing a while back when we observed (in a law review article — forgive us!) that these days law school faculty members go on about the influence of Kant on the critical legal studies movement, while their bewildered students are surprised to learn that Kant was person, and otherwise have no idea wht the prof is talking about. But the profs blather on about the theoretical and historical aspects of the law, and spend their time writing incomprehensible law review articles that fewer and fewer people (except other professors) bother to read. And who can blame them? Would you curl up on the couch with a glass of wine and a copy of A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Post-Modern Legal Theory? No? Nor would we. And yet, such stuff fills thousands of pages of law journals, laying waste to forests chopped down for the paper consumed in the process, and taking big chunks out of law school budgets. Mind you, there may be a place for such stuff in university departments of philosophy, but not in law schools which take the students’ (and their parents’) good money (a kid can graduate from law school $150,000 in debt) but fail to teach them the skills necessary to become lawyers.
The problem, says the Times, is that law faculties largely don’t know anything about the practice of law, because they have never practiced any. These days, a typical new law school faculty member went to an ipsy-pipsy law school where he served on the law review, then clerked for a judge for a year, and then either joined a law faculty, or spent a year before doing so, working for the government or in the bowels of a large downtown firm, doing mind-numbing crap so his time could be billed at several hundred dollars an hour to unsuspecting big-buck clients.
Now, it seems, the worm has turned and those clients are no longer willing to get billed for training fledgling big-firm lawyers — train your new lawyers on your own dime, they increasingly say to the law firms that handle their legal matters. The upshot, given the ongoing recession, is that big law firms are hiring fewer new lawyers, making prospects grim for all those kids who went into hock up to their eyeballs to pay for law school, but can’t find a position that is capable of providing them with an income capable of servicing their debt and leaving something for reasonable living expenses. And as we noted in this blog a while back, some of the routine legal work is being offshored to India.
So much for the nub of the Times report. But there is more. The article stresses the fact that these days law school faculties despise the practice of law. They see “law” as an ideological instrument of change, although you rarely hear them explain in detail what they want to change it to. “Change the system” has become a mantra among them anyway. Only recently, Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of UC Davis Law Schoool wrote on a National Law Journal blog that he went into law because he thought it would make a good way to effect — what else? — change. Change of what into what? He didn’t say. If your heart is the right — make that left — place, it requires no explanation.
And that brings us to the elephant in the room that goes unmentioned by Mr. Segal in his long article. Namely, that today’s law school faculties are largely left of center to hard-left radicals. Like it or not but that’s the way it is. Nothing new there, but it explains why law professors are so disdainful of practicing lawyers who more often than not are called upon to represent the interests of businesses and property owners whom the faculty folks see as evil and unworthy of fair consideration by the legal system. Except, of course, when it comes to the Kelo case. There, they think that 19th century precedent should be immutable, and that taking the homes of lower middle class folks for the benefit of big corporations is just swell. Go figure.
We like Segal’s conclusion to his article:
“While most of law school professoriate still happily dwell in the uppermost floors of the ivory tower, the view from the ground for new graduates is growing uglier. It’s not just that the market is now awash with castoffs from Big Law, and that clients can now retain graduates from elite schools and pay them $25 or $50 an hour, on contract. The nature of legal work itself is evolving, and the days when corporations buy billable hours, instead of results, are numbered.
“To succeeed in this environment, graduates will need entrepreneurial skills, management ability and some expertise in landing clients. They will need to know less about Contracts and more about contracts.”