Saturday, July 05, 2008

Graduate School Credit

My sense is that on most campuses, law schools are not regarded a quite up to par as far as other graduate programs. If true it is unfortunate. As someone who has done both -- law school and graduate school -- I feel that law students work harder. Plus, given the market for Ph.D.s in most areas, law schools attract excellent students especially if they cannot afford 5-7 years more of college.

I was discussing this law school/graduate school issue with a close faculty friend (really) who said part of the reason is that legal scholarship only seems to rise to graduate school level when it is combined with another discipline and involves empirical work. I do not totally agree but I think there is a great deal of truth to the observation. On the first point, so many articles are already interdisciplinary that is hard to believe this makes a difference. I doubt there are many articles in law reviews that limit their sources and influences to cases and treatises. On the empirical end, I agree more with the statement. I cannot put my finger on it but I am not sure law can be regarded as an equal to others at the graduate level unless ideas are tested in one way or another and a body of “findings” developed that only law professors have the expertise to develop. At this time, law seems to have only a derivative claim to graduate level status.

I have often written that most legal articles are actually service and not scholarship. The dividing line for me being whether the author starts with a question or hypothesis or is writing to prove a point he or she want to convince others of. The difference would be like:

a. Courts have traditionally ruled in favor of tall people (This is usually written by a short person) and I am going to show you why you should agree with me.

b. Does height affect the rulings of courts?

Law teachers are generally trained to do the former and so that is what they do. Articles that disagree are like battling briefs and if you only read one you very likely to get one part of the story. As long as their scholarship is of this variety, their schools and their students will suffer.

Aside from the advocacy writing as opposed to idea testing what other things separate law from other graduate programs?

I have a hunch that law professors give more machine graded exams that professors in other graduate programs. It’s not the exams that matter but what the teachers teach and the students learn when the evaluation tool is a machine graded multiple choice exam. I could be wrong but please do not comment with examples one way or the other. This is the sort of thing that needs to be actually tested and not go down the usual law professor path of dueling briefs and examples. Part of this hunch is based on talking to some joint degree students who observe “A multiple choice machine graded exam makes the course all of a sudden seem less serious.” I mean, are Ph.D.s handed out on the basis of multiple choice questions and answers?

Another possibility is the nature of the evaluation at tenure and promotion time. I am sure the system can be gamed in other disciplines and that there are arguments about quality, but I doubt the panic is anything close to that of untenured law professors who worry about their reviewers. They are worried for good reason. They have written briefs and people who disagree have to overcome their own feelings on the issue to be objective. I have observed that people who disagree are more willing to be objective and praise a paper than people who agree with the position are willing to note when a project has been shoddily executed. And there is, of course, the market for letters.

On hiring I suspect there is also a different although I am sure it is of degree. Law school hiring often hinges on the advocacy of a hiring committee for one candidate or another. This advocacy, which can be just a notch above selling beer (Get it before it runs out! Everyone’s favorite!), is based on knowing the candidates for 30 minutes to an hour. Campus visits are not about the candidates but about the group who invited them and their desire to be seen as having made good decisions. Of course, the faculties never see the alternatives but, more importantly, in law there is so little to go on. There is no dissertation and consequently, largely irrelevant factors come into play.

It does occur to me that the rankings of law schools might be viewed as law schools that are true graduate programs and then the rest that simply train lawyers. Even if that is the case, becoming more graduate school like would seem to increase the effectiveness of law schools, their status, and that of their graduates. After all the degree is a doctorate.

1 comment:

C. Zorn said...

"After all the degree is a doctorate."

Well, it has the word in it, anyway; but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who spent three years in coursework, took two weeks of comprehensive exams, and then wrote and defended a 250-page Ph.D. thesis who would agree with you.

You're right on the larger point, though: most of the rest of the university looks with a bit of shame on their law faculty when it comes to scholarship. One of the biggest contributors to this (aside from the points you mention, all good ones) is the way law review publication works. Massively-parallel submission, the lack of any (let alone single- or double-blind) peer review, and the fact that nearly anything a lawprof writes can and will wind up in *some* law journal all have the effect of badly devaluing what passes for scholarship on law faculties.