Law School Deans

It’s Halloween tonight, don’t forget to wear a condom.

I know, that advice comes too late for most people. Most people had their Halloween parties over the weekend, tonight is for the kids. And it’s Christmas Day for dentists.

In fact, we’ve received reports that one Midwestern law school had quite a smashing little Halloween shindig. According to a tipster: “The front entrance to the law school was a minefield of vomit puddles.”

A spooky minefield of vomit and puddles?

In response, the law school is now banning alcohol. Which wouldn’t sound so ridiculous if it didn’t expose the intense hypocrisy of the “business” of legal education…

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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.

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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* Justice Sandra Day O’Connor has joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in being one of the only justices to perform a same-sex marriage. No divas here: the wedding ceremony was held at the high court because “[t]hat’s where she was.” [BuzzFeed]

* “Proceed with caution.” David Kappos, the former director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, isn’t too keen on the latest patent reform bill that’s currently before the House Judiciary Committee. If only the man still had a say. [National Law Journal]

* Dentons and McKenna Long & Aldridge have released a joint statement to ensure the public that the proposed merger is still on. Good news, everyone! The firm won’t be named McDentons. [Am Law Daily]

* Ralph Lerner, formerly of Sidley Austin, has been slapped on the wrist suspended from practice in New York for one year’s time after improperly billing car service to clients to the tune of $50,000. [Am Law Daily]

* It’s been a year since Superstorm Sandy, and lawyers are still counseling their clients on how to muddle through the mess. Volunteer some pro bono hours and help out those in need. [New York Law Journal]

* After threatening to cut faculty positions, New England Law Dean John O’Brien is taking a 25 percent pay cut. He’ll only earn $650,000. Wow. I think we’re supposed to be impressed. [Boston Business Journal]

* Career alternatives for attorneys: rescuer of nerd relics. Head to this Brooklyn book store (of course it’s in Brooklyn) if you’re desperately seeking long lost science fiction tales. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* We bet that folks in Australia would like to tell the the High Court to bugger off after overturning this ruling. Sexual injuries that occur during work-related trips don’t qualify for workers’ compensation. [Bloomberg]

Are you kidding me with this Halloween stuff? I can’t wait till this stupid “holiday” season is over. No, I’m not changing my Twitter name to “Evil MYSTal” for a week. Stop dressing up like a slut. Stop putting costumes on your dogs. GET THE HELL OFF MY LAWN!

Wait… I’m being told that this isn’t a Halloween joke, this is a real complaint. Law professors are actually accusing their school of giving them a raise designed to associate them with the Antichrist. Okay, well this is funny again…

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I’d say that New England Law School Dean John F. O’Brien “should be ashamed of himself,” but really, the man has already proven that he is not capable of experiencing the human emotion of “shame.” This is a guy who would probably ask the Ghost of Christmas Future how much he gets paid for a good haunting.

O’Brien is well known around these parts for making $867,000 a year to run an unranked law school. No, that’s not a typo, and yes, I’ve sat in a diner with a New England law student and said, “If you give that nimrod $40,904 I’m gonna shoot him on general principles.”

Now, O’Brien is asking the other faculty at New England to take a buyout or work like employees at Initech…

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When you think about it, Snoop has a lot in common with Biglaw partners: no matter what they’re doing, they have their mind on their money and their money on their mind. Or maybe that’s what Snoop has in common with law school deans. In any event, what legal writing is sorely lacking is Snoop’s unique vernacular.

So when we discovered Gizoogle.net — a website that converts web pages into Snoop-speak — we couldn’t help but spend some time converting law school and law firm bios, SCOTUS decisions, and even one of Elie’s ATL articles.

I mean, any site that translates a Supreme Court decision to include, “It aint nuthin but tha nick nack patty wack, I still gots tha bigger sack,” is worth spending a few hours playing around with.

Fo shizzle…

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I don’t think we’ll be seeing Case Western Reserve School of Law Dean Lawrence Mitchell writing a New York Times op-ed about the sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him. So I think the email he just sent to Case Western Law students will have to suffice as his official response — at least until he can figure out how to wrap “defending the dean from faculty allegations” into Case Western’s revamped curriculum.

I’m not surprised he said something about it. One thing that we’ve clearly seen from Mitchell’s time at Case Western is that he’s a media hound, so long as he doesn’t actually have to answer any questions from the media. He seems to be far more concerned with how he (and the school) is perceived than anything else. Oh, he was going to say something.

But since he can’t really talk about the case against him directly, his email was just reduced to (you guessed it) telling students how lucky they were to be going to Case Western! Of course they are, don’t you wish you could be going to a school where your dean is slowly becoming a national punchline?

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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…

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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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