Legal academia

3L year everywhere.

David Lat and I were on CNBC’s Power Lunch with Dan Rodriguez, Dean of Northwestern Law School, discussing whether law school should be two years. As I mentioned earlier today, this debate got started again when President Obama said that he thought law school should last only two years, at least in terms of classroom instruction. Please see my earlier post if you’d like to talk about why Obama’s thought bubble was literally the least useful thing he could have done to effectuate the change he desires.

Here, we’re going to talk about whether Obama’s idea is good in the first place. Should law school be two years long? Let me rephrase that question: is there any possible justification for forcing people to sit through a third year of law school if they don’t want to?

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Being a legal academic is probably a lot of fun. You can act like a complete jerk with zero repercussions. Your job is pretty safe so long as you don’t work at a sinking law school. And you can write the most ridiculous tripe and pass it off as research.

Have you ever wondered which law school has the most cited academics?

No? Well, here you go anyway.

Using Brian Leiter’s patented “Scholarly Impact Score,” here are the top 10 law schools in terms of cited academics….

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You can download the notes, or not. I don’t care. I have to write a law review article that nobody will ever read.

Of course it does. That question has such an obvious answer that it’s kind of dumb to ask. Of course a system that rewards “teachers” with lifetime jobs for focusing on esoteric research that has little or no applicability to the challenges their students will face in the real world is of limited value to the students who pay their salaries.

So why would a professor get in trouble for saying that? Why would a professor get in trouble for saying it to other professors? If there are people who think the job of a big-time legal academic is to service students, they are sadly mistaken.

Why should anybody have a problem with a Harvard Law professor who says that?

Please note the UPDATE added after the jump.

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I’ve got better things to do than be in this class right now.

The douchebag has a point. It’s going to be hard for some people to see, what with the kid huffing and puffing and doing all the things that make people hate gunners who spend half of class with their hand in the air. But trust me, at the heart of this story, this kid is making a reasonable point about law school and the value of in-class lectures.

Luckily for us, he’s making that point by acting like a petulant, entitled law student, one who drew the ire of his professor and the ridicule of his classmates.

So, this should be fun for the whole family… .

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Personally, I gave up on law reviews in the mid-90s.

For a while after I graduated from law school, I flipped through the tables of contents of the highest profile law reviews, to see what the scholars were saying and to read things that were relevant to my practice. But by the mid-90s, I gave up: There was no chance of finding anything relevant, so the game was no longer worth the candle.

(When I took up blogging about pharmaceutical product liability cases, I began rooting around for law review articles in that field, which could generate the fodder for blog posts for which I was always desperate. Even then, the law reviews rarely offered much that practitioners would care about.)

None of that convinced me that the law reviews were dead, however, because I figured that the academics were at least still relying on the law reviews to screen and distribute each other’s work. But I had dinner recently with an old law school classmate who’s now (1) a prominent scholar in his or her field and (2) a member of the hiring committee at his or her law school. A short conversation with this guy (or gal) convinced me that law reviews are not long for this world. . . .

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As we reported yesterday, Dean Paul Schiff Berman is leaving the deanship at the George Washington University Law School to assume a university-wide position as GW’s “Vice Provost for Online Education and Academic Innovation.” He’s switching jobs effective January 16, 2013.

Since the news of Dean Berman’s resignation became public, we’ve heard all sorts of rumors about why he’s departing as dean of GW Law. What are the rumors — and is there any truth to them?

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Last year, my colleague Elie Mystal opined as follows: “Any lawyer who calls himself ‘doctor,’ like a Ph.D., should get punched in the mouth.” Given the self-aggrandizing nature of a lawyer taking on the additional title of “doctor,” I can’t say I disagree with him (with all due respect to the efforts on Facebook to get lawyers referred to as doctors).

But what if lawyers — more specifically, aspiring law professors — actually got Ph.D. degrees in law? That’s what will soon be happening at Yale Law School. The school just announced a new “Ph.D. in Law” program, aimed at aspiring law professors.

How will this program work? And is it a good idea? I reached out to a number of prominent law professors, all graduates of YLS themselves, for thoughts on their alma mater’s plan to grant a new degree….

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Complete honesty is such a dangerous thing.

I’m going to give it a shot.

I’m posing three questions to myself today. First, why might a lawyer at a law firm choose to write articles? Second, what topics should lawyers write about, and where should they publish the articles? Finally, why might an in-house lawyer choose to write?

The honest truth is that outside lawyers choose to write for many, varied reasons. In-house lawyers might also choose to write for many reasons, but those reasons are different and fewer. Across the board, authors’ motivations for writing will be mixed.

Do I have a right to speak on the subject of publications? My credentials, in a nutshell, are these: Three books; twelve law review articles; two book chapters; about 70 other, shorter articles (in places ranging from The Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune to Pharmaceutical Executive and Litigation); and maybe 600 blog posts (roughly 500 at Drug and Device Law and north of 100 here). Call me nuts (and I may well be), but I’ve spent a professional lifetime doing a ton of “recreational” legal writing.

Why did I do it? Should you?

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Outgoing NYLS Dean Rick Matasar

Even at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), the criticism of the legal education business just flowed. Everybody, it seems, has an opinion on what is wrong with law schools these days.

While many of the law school deans and other administrators at the conference acknowledged problems with the system, most of the actual critiquing came from people with no power to change it. Media members (ahem) criticized law schools, judges criticized law schools, outgoing deans of law schools that shamelessly profiteered off of unwitting law students criticized — and the people who could actually change their systems dutifully listened.

But despite all of the critiques, there weren’t a lot of schools that seemed ready to institute sweeping change to the business of educating lawyers. And why should they? Change won’t come from above, and right now prospective law students are not demanding change from below…

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I’m really enjoying the newfound interest from the New York Times about the state of legal education. Times reporter David Segal seems genuinely interested in recording the growing tragedy of American law schools.

Concern from mainstream media is great, but the proposed solutions are a little bit scary. Last month, Segal Slate explored the possibility of paying people to not go to law school.

As we mentioned in Morning Docket, Segal is at it again. This time, he’s questioning the American Bar Association’s role in keeping the cost of legal education so high. Unfortunately, the solution seems to be letting everybody who wants to open a law school do so.

Is it worth pushing down the price of legal education by offering really crappy legal education?

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