Thursday, May 10, 2012

CHE Write-up on Tamanaha's Forthcoming Book on Law Schools

It's here; the book includes a lot of the material that we have often linked to over the last year.  The quote from me in the article sounds much more lukewarm than what I sent to CHE when asked for comments, so I'll just reprint what I wrote to Ms. Mangan when she asked me for comment on the book:

First, in case you haven't seen it, here's something I wrote awhile back about reform in legal education:

As you will see, most of these put me on the same page as Tamanaha.  If there's one theme that runs through his book it is that we need more *kinds* of law schools out there, that the "Chicago model" or the "Harvard model" shouldn't be the only one.  And that will require the ABA to loosen up some of its accreditation requirements.    Given the neoliberal paradigm in which we live, the only 'solutions' are going to come through the marketplace--no one can just mandate that faculty teach more and write less.   Some institution has to show that there's an actual market for a cheaper law degree delivered by faculty who emphasize teaching over research.

A lot of the book is clearly a fair description of the current state of legal education in America, and a useful compendium of data.  He does harp more on the negatives than the positives, and is obviously too generous in his treatment of some of the critics, for example, saying little about the numerous errors in David Segal's NY Times articles.    (There are also minor errors in the book, but not too many--for example, he's mistaken about the amount of 'merit' aid schools like Yale and Harvard award.)  

Although he gives sustained attention to the perverse influence of the U.S. News rankings, in some ways he still understates their impact.  For example, he notes, correctly, that schools have been expanding their faculties, but notes that this is unlikely to improve academic reputation as measured by U.S. News.  But that's not the issue:  the issue is that, all else being equal, the U.S. News rank of a law school is a function of per capita expenditures, and almost nothing else.  The most profligate spender per capita is the "best" law school--that's why Yale always tops Harvard.  While many of the trends in legal education are just part of broader trends in higher education over the last generation (as he sometimes notes), there's no doubt that the U.S. News "incentives" have pushed law schools further in the wrong directions.

I would certainly encourage a prospective law student, especially one not likely to get into one of the very top schools, to read this book.

UPDATE:  Orin Kerr (George Washington) also has a favorable write-up of the book.

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