I wanted to add my voice to that of my colleague, John McGinnis, who has posted on Law and Liberty about legal education, and, in particular, the one-size-fits-all approach to training lawyers on the part of the Association of American Law Schools. As John noted:
Lawyers working on the latest mergers at Wachtell, Lipton are performing substantially different functions from those writing typical wills or handling landlord-tenant disputes. Legal education should reflect the heterogeneity of the profession which it serves.
John criticized, in particular the AALS’s opposition to “replacing over time some tenured professors with practitioners.” He observed that the practical training many lawyers need can just as easily be provided by practitioners as by professors at law schools “try[ing] to resemble junior varsity Yales in devoting very substantial resources to the production of scholarship.”
It is now notorious that much, if not most, legal scholarship is only read by law professors, and as Chief Justice John Roberts and retiring Court of Appeals judge Richard Posner have both recently observed, is of no use to judges, let alone practitioners. I think, though, that while we’re at it, we might do well to consider more radically reforming legal education.
The American Association of Law Schools (AALS) is a professional guild. It never misses a chance to proclaim that it is working in the public interest, while nevertheless focusing on its own interests—expanding the perquisites and number of its members. The latest newsletter makes this combination even more visible than usual. It devoted its opening essay to Access to Justice-which it claims to favor. Simultaneously, it announced its opposition to a proposal of the American Bar Association, now operating under the watchful eye of Antitrust Division, which could decrease the cost of going to law school—one of the principal barriers to access. The problem is that the proposal might well over time reduce the number of tenured professors, who, of course, run the AALS.
The ABA proposes that after the first year of law, accredited law schools could permit part-time teachers to teach any or all second and third year courses. The first year would remain mainly the province of a full-time faculty. The rationale of the AALS’s opposition is that “full time faculty are essential to providing quality education.” It provides no empirical support for this claim. There are more than a million practicing lawyers in this country. And the best are extremely articulate and expert in their chosen fields. It would be surprising if some conscientious law school, particularly one in large metropolitan area, could not find superb teachers among them.