Friday, September 27, 2013

A different take on the ABA Task Force Draft Report on the Future of Legal Education

Robert Condlin (Maryland) calls to my attention his different, and more critical, take on the draft report (found in this paper of his); he makes a number of sound points that are worth airing:

This latest ABA paper on legal education is a deeply flawed document.   Starting from what it describes as a “fundamental tension” between legal education’s dual status as a “public [and] private good,” id. at 6-7, (what the Report actually describes is the tension between education and training—it mistakenly thinks of those as the same thing), it proposes reconstituting law schools as technical training institutes “devoted to preparing students to pursue and compete for jobs.” Id. at 13.  It makes a few, mostly adjectival, concessions to critics of its earlier Working Paper on the same subject, see note 6 supra, but for the most part it retains the anti-intellectualism and worker bee myopia that characterized that earlier work.  It shows no awareness of the obligation to prepare lawyers to implement rules and operate institutions to serve the ends of justice, fairness, equality, and efficiency, for example, or the obligation to future generations to construct legal norms and institutions that can adapt to changing social and political circumstances, needs, and beliefs. Instead, it focuses obsessively on the present and constructs a blueprint for satisfying students’ immediate “customer” desires rather than theirs and the legal system’s long-term interests.

In this same spirit, it depicts legal scholarship as a drag on education, adding to its cost without producing any corresponding benefit, ignoring the numerous contributions legal scholarship has made to the development of law in areas as diverse as privacy, see e.g., Samuel D. Warren and Louis D. Brandeis, The Right to Privacy, 4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890), tax, see e.g., Boris Bittker, Tax Shelters, Nonrecourse Debt, and the Crane Case, 33 Tax L. Rev. 277 (1978), commodities trading, see e.g., Saule T. Omarova, The Merchants of Wall Street: Banking, Commerce, and Commodities, 98 Minn. L. Rev. (forthcoming) (2013), antitrust, see e.g., Robert H. Bork, The Antitrust Paradox (1993), property, see e.g., Charles A. Reich, The New Property, 73 Yale L. J. 733 (1964), environmental protection, see e.g., Joseph Sax, The Public Trust in Natural Resource Law, 68 Mich. L. Rev. 71 (1970), copyright, see e.g., Robert Denicola, Applied Art and Industrial Design: A Suggested Approach to Copyright in Useful Articles, 67 Minn. L. Rev. 707 (1983), consumer financial protection, see e.g.,Elizabeth Warren, Unsafe at Any Rate, 5 Democracy (Summer 2007) available at
<>, product safety, see e.g., Guido Calabresi, The Cost of Accidents: A Legal and Economic Analysis (1970), and dozens of others.  See David Kennedy & William Fisher III (eds.) The Canon of American Legal Thought (2006) (describing twenty law review articles that have had a profound effect on the shape of American law and legal institutions); Michelle Harner & Jason Cantone, Is Legal Scholarship Out of Touch? An Empirical Analysis of the Use of Scholarship in Business Law Cases, 19 U. Miami Bus. L. Rev. 1 (2011) (describing the influence of legal business law scholarship on the decisions of the Delaware Supreme Court).  It also ignores the systemic contributions of scholars like Henry Hart and Albert Sachs, Mitchell Polinsky, Richard Posner, and numerous others, who changed the ways in which generations of judges and lawyers go about their business and think about law and legal institutions.  Scholarship is the legal system’s seed corn, and destroying seed corn eventually makes an ecosystem uninhabitable.

The Task Force’s mindset reminds me of my brief experience as a member of the Long Range Planning Committee of a major state bar.  Long range planning for our Committee consisted of someone saying: “You know, last week this happened to me; there ought to be a law against it,” and the Committee (with me excepting) agreeing.    Hopefully, the ABA House of Delegates will understand the risks in such casual empiricism and spare law schools the harm wrecked by similar short term thinking in the present day worlds of law practice and business. “The customer is always right” may have worked for Marshall Field, but it is a prescription for disaster in legal education.

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