Frank H. Wu

Frank H. Wu is Chancellor & Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law. He also is the author of Yellow: Race in America Beyond Black and White.

Posts by Frank H. Wu

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He shares some of his thoughts about legal education and the legal profession here on Above the Law from time to time.

I was talking to a reporter the other day about changes within the legal profession. She had called me to ask what types of jobs were opening up. I disappointed her. She wanted specialties offering positions that were sexy, new, and numerous.

I explained there were indeed more jobs. But I did not know any of them that satisfied all of her criteria.

There were many possibilities for her article. None of them were everything she was looking for.

That would be true for the individuals obtaining those roles as well. I recall a former colleague who used to say in response to the extravagant expectations that young people express about their careers: “That’s why we call it ‘work.’” She meant that there isn’t any reason to believe it will be fun. It is more likely to be boring, stressful, or both boring and stressful by turns if not simultaneously.

By the journalist’s standards, unless it is sexy, new and numerous, it does not register at all. That isn’t the best understanding of the universe of possibilities. Law is not intrinsically sexy….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “That’s Why We Call it ‘Work’”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

Whether teaching is an art or a science, it requires much more than knowledge of the substantive subject. An understanding of the material is necessary but not sufficient. Effective teaching also demands that the teacher and the students as a group develop a relationship of mutual respect and trust. The classroom dynamic is paramount.

This semester, I co-taught a class with Professor Roger Park. I mean a single class session, not the whole course.

It was terrific to be back in the classroom. That is the point of the entire enterprise in which we are engaged. A law school exists to train people to become advocates and counselors.

The experience reminded me of the importance of rapport based on the implicit pledge that the teacher is on the same side as the students. I have an opinion about effective pedagogy that may seem radical but is not really upon reflection. My hypothesis is that there is not much correlation between knowledge of a subject and success in communicating it to others…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “How We Teach”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

Legal education does not suffer from a problem. It suffers from multiple problems.

In law school, before students learn anything else, they must understand the importance of issue spotting. One cannot analyze a case or a line of cases, without being able to see the multiple potential issues that are raised and then recognizing which warrant consideration. In actual practice, this skill remains a pre-requisite for offering an opinion or fashioning an argument. It becomes a matter of course.

Legal education faces at least three problems. They are related but not the same. What might help with respect to one problem might hurt with respect to another problem….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Problems of Legal Education”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

People ask me all the time, “Isn’t it all a cycle?” They want to know if the legal marketplace will come back, with legal education then following.

My answer is, “No.”

A better answer, like most law professor’s answers to simple questions, would be, “It depends on what you mean.”

Yes, law as a business will rebound. It has already done so by some measures. However, it won’t come back in the same form. Nothing ever does.

We all are the products of our backgrounds. For me, that means Detroit.

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As we commit to bold action to reform legal education, we also should lay out the parameters within which we operate.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of my job as a law school dean is determining how to balance contradictory demands. Communities have multiple members who wish for different outcomes. Economist Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel Prize for showing it is logically impossible for a democracy to aggregate preferences in situations displaying any complexity. Even individuals desire particular outcomes without realizing all of the costs or the consequences. It turns out that it is not uncommon to believe we want something we couldn’t actually live with.

Take faculty compensation as an example. There are few professions of which I am aware that face vehement attacks on pay as law professors are encountering. While we’re at it, let’s add faculty productivity to the mix. Law professors also are criticized from all sides for the social utility of the undertaking that is the primary means by which they size up their own worth: writing books and articles.

Another framing stipulation. One of the important responsibilities of a law professor as a teacher is ensuring students understand the distinction between descriptive statements and normative arguments. The former are assertions about what is, the latter assertions about what should be. In some instances, classroom discussion — much like legal advice — concerns the black letter doctrine as it currently exists. In other instances, classroom discussion — also like legal advocacy — addresses potential reforms that could be implemented.

I would like to explain why people, especially students, likely don’t desire schools to reduce faculty compensation or cease being academic in orientation. Or at least they would not want any single school, the one with which they happen to be associated, to do so and suffer as a result. I would not mind being proven wrong in the descriptive, not normative, line of reasoning set forth below. For purposes of this analysis, I am looking at matters from the perspective of student self-interest…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “What We Want From Law Professors”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

I feel for our students. I mean that too — nowadays, people are so cynical that any expression of sentiment that isn’t ironic is assumed simply to be false or regarded as condescending.

Law school at its best is difficult. Even when the economy is great and individual career prospects seem assured, legal education has never been easy. Whether it is the skill of “issue spotting,” statutory construction, distinguishing precedent, the challenge of writing for those who will literally judge you, or the anxiety brought on by the Socratic dialogue, which remains the norm for classroom discussion, almost all students at some point suffer anxieties about their decision to enter the legal profession.

We should make it better. We are making it better…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Dante’s Graduation”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

Everyone is urging law schools to make radical modifications to how they do business, if not demanding that they do so. Indeed law schools are obligated to rethink the basics of everything from the curriculum to the financing of the degree.

As we discuss much-needed reform of legal education, it might be useful for everyone to have information on where the money comes from to operate law schools. There are basically five sources of revenue for the 200 or so ABA-accredited institutions. Academic quality can be sustained only if the business model is viable.

First, law schools are what is called “tuition dependent.” With a handful of exceptions, the primary funding derives from students in the form of tuition that is paid. Almost all schools then return significant proportions of what they receive to financial aid.

But that’s just the first piece of the pie…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Where Law Schools Get Their Money”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

I was recently befuddled about some information I had been given. That happens. I was inspired by my own momentary confusion to write this blog post. It made me realize how much raw data has to be sorted through to achieve transparency.

Perhaps the most important aspect of training in argumentation, which constitutes the bulk of the first year of law school, is learning how to frame issues. A skilled advocate comes to understand early on that the party who is able to define the question to be asked has already determined the answer that will be given. It is more than mere semantics.

Laypeople tend to regard lawyers as sophists, because they — the lawyers — are so concerned about accuracy and precision. Lawyers may even distinguish between “accuracy” and “precision.” Lawyers do not assume that everyone has exactly the same concepts in mind even if they are participating in a single conversation together, because the essential “meeting of the minds” is elusive. They also appreciate the consequences of sloppiness.

Allow me to offer an example…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “The Difficulty With Data”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’s currently sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

In the modern economy, we are trying to achieve with people what we have done with machines. We want individual workers to be “plug and play.” The term refers to computer equipment that can function immediately, without the need for elaborate set-up; you merely plug it into a power supply and it starts to play what it’s supposed to.

I have thought about, and startups are implementing, the delivery of legal services equivalent to ride-sharing services. Imagine a database that offered a list of lawyers whom you could meet in your area (if you even wanted to see them face to face), during a specific time period, with searchable specializations. If they were pre-cleared for conflicts and had set prices for particular tasks, the user would click to reserve an appointment and be all set.

Call it “Ziplawyer.” Apologies to Zipcar.

Maybe combine it with a ratings service. Behold: a new structure for the profession.

The model is great for consumers. It gives them information and options. The access to the marketplace fosters competition.

But the model also is advantageous for members of the bar. It allows solo practitioners who are tech-savvy to punch above their weight, as the saying goes. They can reach many more people than they could by traditional means, who need exactly what they have to offer.

Yet I am enthusiastic about these possibilities only to a point. I am reminded of Robocop 2….

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Resist the Robolawyer”

Ed. note: Frank H. Wu is the Chancellor and Dean of the University of California Hastings College of the Law. He’ll be sharing some of his thoughts about legal education and other topics here on Above the Law.

For a long time, I was young. Now, however, I am old enough to have contempt for the young. It turns out I am not alone. Anyone approximately my age laughs when I inform them I have reached this milestone.

Despite their desire that we all lighten up and their conviction we are peers, youth today — like youth of any era — take umbrage at this remark. What can I say. They have no sense of humor.

When I participate in the blogosphere, I wonder if the world is about to end. The lament about internet discourse has become cliched. It is angry, communicating hardly anything more than grunting. Even those who wish to be meaningfully provocative cannot compete.

Yet maturity is all about realizing one is wrong. I take it all back. I realize I am not understanding the norms…

double red triangle arrows Continue reading “Your Mother Is . . . Going to Law School”

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