Law School Deans

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…

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Dean Lawrence Mitchell

Dean Lawrence E. Mitchell of Case Western Reserve University School of Law is not your ordinary law school dean. How many other deans have been the subject of an ATL caption contest?

Case Western is a prominent and well-ranked law school, #68 in the latest U.S. News rankings. It didn’t make the ATL Law School rankings, which stop at the top 50, but Case Western alumni give their alma mater a solid B-plus, as you can see from the school’s ATL Career Center profile.

But Mitchell’s fame comes less from Case Western and more from his national profile as a defender of legal education. Last year, he wrote an op-ed for the New York Times, Law School Is Worth the Money, that went viral.

Critics of Mitchell’s piece, including my colleague Elie Mystal, accused the dean of screwing over his students. Case Western charges tuition of almost $50,000, but less than 50 percent of its graduates secure full-time, long-term employment as lawyers, according to Law School Transparency.

Today Dean Mitchell is back in the news. A lawsuit filed this morning alleges that he screws his students more literally….

(See the UPDATE added below for the university’s response to the complaint.)

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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…

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* Stay tuned after the credits of Captain Phillips to see the part where the crew accuses him of negligence and sues him for millions. [Findlaw]

* Graphs showing the extent of growth in the ten states with the most and least growth in attorneys over the last ten years. The Texas legal market is growing dangerously fast. I sure hope it doesn’t lead to massive layoffs and the shuttering of offices. Weil have to wait and see. [Associate's Mind]

* In Nevada, Heather can now have two (legal) mommies. [ABA Journal]

* The push for the federal government to overhaul the public defender system is gaining momentum. Too bad there’s still no “federal government” to speak of. [NPR]

* Senior lawyers editing their juniors should take it easy with the red pen. A lot of the time, seniors are not editing to improve the product, but to make it sound like they wrote it, and this is the wrong approach. Senior attorneys have a narcissism problem? Never! [At Counsel Table]

* A new blog featuring law school deans discussing legal education seeks bloggers. Which deans will walk into the spotlights to accept the public abuse? [Law Professor Blogs Network]

* The next time you use Tinder to find a hot date, you just might be treated to an advertisement for a plaintiff’s firm. Image after the jump…

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This law school has a healthy approach to slimming down.

Layoffs continue to march through law firms. We reported yet another layoff story earlier today.

But now we have some happy news to share, regarding potential layoffs that were averted. A law school that was contemplating junior-faculty layoffs fortunately won’t have to go through with the cuts it had been contemplating.

Which law school achieved this feat? And what lessons might it have to offer to other law schools that are attempting to rightsize themselves in this challenging environment for legal education?

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Law school rejection letters have been sent to even the best of us, and most are quick to pick up their bruised egos and call it a day. But there are others out there who are unable to move on with their lives. Their dreams have been crushed, and they want nothing more than to exact revenge against the admissions dean who destroyed their imagined future in the only way they know how: by pointing out the dean’s grammatical and typographical errors in the rejection letter itself, and in other academic works found online.

If you’re wondering what correspondence like that would look like, wonder no more, because we got our hands on it, and boy, is it entertaining…

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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…

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You’ve got to love it when a law professor turns up the snark on his own students. It happens often enough in class, but you don’t often see a professor doing it on a school-wide listserv.

Then again, you don’t often see students willfully piss off law professors this much. A professional responsibility professor has noted some very unprofessional behavior from the kids at his school, and he used the listserv to make his point with comic effect…

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Amanda Knox

* “The multimillion dollar question is: Is it going to happen and for how long?” Surprisingly, health care attorneys from large firms are being quite blasé about the Congressional battle over Obamacare. [Blog of Legal Times]

* The 2013 Global 100 is out, and with an 8.6 percent growth in revenue, DLA Piper was able to really show the world the benefits of churning that bill, baby! We’ll have more on this news later today. [American Lawyer]

* This is getting exhausting: Dentons, the three-way merger product of SNR Denton (a merger product itself), Salans, and Fraser Milner Casgrain, is in talks with McKenna Long & Aldridge for yet another merger. [Am Law Daily]

* The director of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s enforcement unit will be stepping down to spend time more with family. The countdown until he returns to Skadden Arps starts now. [DealBook / New York Times]

* Ted Olson and David Boies, perhaps more commonly known these days as the gay marriage dream team, will be working together to challenge Virginia’s ban on marriage equality. [National Law Journal]

* Should law school be two years long? Kyle McEntee of Law School Transparency (3 points) is beating the pants off Northwestern’s dean (-4 points) in this debate. [Debate Club / U.S. News & World Report]

* If you’re still considering applying for law school despite all of the warnings seen here and elsewhere, then you’ll probably want to follow this advice. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* The Italian Court of Appeal is retrying Amanda Knox of a crime she’s already been convicted and acquitted of, and the chances she’ll be extradited if convicted again are slim to none. Buon lavoro. [CNN]

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…

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