Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow opine in yesterday's NY Times...

...that things aren't as awful as the various charlatans and other law-school haters claim, and, predictably (given the social psychology), the charlatans and haters go crazy.  I won't link to the hysterical reactions (they are easy enough to find with Google), but they boil down to one complaint:  Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow cited NALP data without treating it as bogus (e.g., that JD Advantage jobs are really jobs [actually many of them are, but never mind]).  That's true, they linked to the NALP data, but they didn't spend the rest of their piece debunking that data based on speculation, skepticism, and occasionally other actual evidence.  This has certainly been a standing problem in the debate about American legal education, as when serious data analysis showed that legal education was a sound economic investment for the vast majority of students, and critics refused to believe that was true, though without any contrary evidence or analysis.  So we can all agree that we should be more careful about how we present data and its import. 

That being said, my main disagreement with Chemerinsky & Menkel-Meadow is about the necessity of three years of legal education, as I've said before:  two years could work, and work very well for many students.  In reality, the biggest obstacle to reducing costs in legal education, however, is unnoted in their op-ed:  it remains the lax tenure standards and the unwillingness of universities to terminate tenured faculty for cause, i.e., when they manifestly do not do their job. 

Imagine, for example, a law school that pays a six figure salary (closing in on 200K) to someone with almost no legal experience and an M.A. in literature who teaches the same couple of substantive courses year in and year out, courses in which he has no experience, whose teaching evaluations are consistently below average, who hasn't written any serious legal scholarship in years, who is regarded as a joke by his colleagues at his own school and in the academy at large, and who mostly spends his time insulting, defaming, and blackmailing colleagues who do their jobs.  It endangers the institution of tenure when universities do not initiate proceedings to terminate malevolent charlatans like this.  Many law schools, as we've noted before, are offering financial inducements to "buy out" senior faculty, most of whom are not charlatans.  Real cost reduction, however, will require universities to move against the charlatans and the de facto retired in their midst, even those who have tried to insulate themselves from termination for cause by setting up frivolous retaliation claims.

UPDATE:  More thoughts on reforming legal education from Michael Madison (Pitt).

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