Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Law School

From a guide about breaking into teaching law:

"At least until the turn of the century, the vast majority of lawyers obtained their education on the job, essentially as apprentices, while others studied in proprietary law schools (like Litchfield, in Connecticut) and a few obtained an education at law departments in universities like Harvard and Columbia. From the standpoint of traditional arts and sciences faculties at universities, law looked like a "trade" – again in the pejorative sense – and not an academic discipline. After Langdell at Harvard mounted a massive public relations effort to enhance the prestige of legal education, more universities opened law schools, but they were often considered stepchildren by the rest of the university. It may be a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not entirely incorrect to say that the legal academy has for this reason always had a bit of an inferiority complex vis-à-vis the wider university, and has sought to defend itself against allegations of being a "mere" trade school by mimicking the standards of other university departments. If it helps to personify the legal academy, imagine it holding up a law review article and saying to the university, "Look here, we can produce turgid prose with lots of footnotes, just like you!" The attempt to gain standing in the eyes of the university helps explain the sexiness of interdisciplinary scholarship like law and economics, law and social science, law and philosophy, postmodern legal theory (drawing from literary criticism, cultural studies, and some branches of sociology and anthropology), and so on. "

Some thoughts:
1. The "inferiority" complex' described above is probably the worst thing about legal academia. It is the reason why we don't learn anything in law school that we can use in practice. It is the reason why law school is three years long instead of one or two. Hardly anyone can defend the third year of law school, but its reason for being there is obvious - it is one year longer than a masters degree (and it is another 30,000+ dollars from every student).

Recently some schools have been changing their curriculum, but I think the changes have to be drastic. So far Stanford's looks like the best to me (from here):

"Stanford unveiled its new "3D" JD plan earlier this week. The new program -- which Dean Larry Kramer hopes will be completed in 2009 -- will focus on making changes to the second and third years of law school. Stanford plans to integrate the JD curriculum with other university departments, allow for more than 20 joint degree programs, and create more opportunities for team learning."

2. I also find this interesting:

"A substantial percentage of plausible teaching candidates comes from only 4 schools – Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and Chicago...Getting a teaching position with a J.D. from a school significantly farther down the food chain would be akin to walking on water, unless you are #1 in your class, have a graduate degree in law or some other discipline, and have a record of good publications."

If there is one thing I was not prepared for in law school it was how much school prestige would become an important factor in my life.

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