Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Commodification of Legal Education and Those Who Supply It

If you have been in legal education for over 20 years you have witnessed the commodification of the industry. It is evident in so many ways -- massive investments in advertising, gaming the rating systems, self promotion of individual professors, teaching evaluations that so far have not be connected to teaching effectiveness,  desperate efforts to stay in business even when the market has said "enough." The industry in which ideas were valued, effective teaching was more important that popularity, and professors displayed some level of humility is gone.

Maybe it should never have existed.  The study of law could have been a graduate program  like history or literature. A training program for how to be a lawyer would be different. One department would be about ideas; the other about commodities. Like other graduate programs, the one in law would have shrunk and the commodity program would have grow and then as shrunk as demand declined.

In the commodification of legal education, professors sell themselves like dish detergent. The don't go to "conferences;" the go to conferences at the "very highest level;"  they announce on facebook every time they write anything; they hustle the students for high evaluations, their deans regard any quotation in a newspaper as deserving of praise; they create conferences that are quickly filled up by those desperate to put on their resumes that they attended a conference and then regard it as an achievement. There is little sign that they love ideas. Instead they love downloads and lines of resumes.

Law Schools do all the same things. The competition is no different than infomericials. Glossy advertising that is superficial in terms of useful information and overstates virtually everything from the attractiveness of the location to the accomplishments of graduates and professors flow like the waste from a broken sewer line.  Every professor is nationally known. Every law school is on the cutting edge but they never say what is being cut.

In the course of this change, I have yet to hear anyone ask if any of this means law students will be better prepared for their careers. And, the  fact is, many of these activities do not contribute to the well-being of the students or their clients.

In keeping with this theme, I have but one thing to say: BUT WAIT, THERE IS MORE, if you apply now we will discount the application fee.


Fred said...

There's another problem too. The US is the only country in the world where law is a postgraduate study. What this means is that US law schools can prey on the most desperate: people who got an undergraduate degree and can't find a job.

Anonymous said...

You've got it exactly right.

Anonymous said...

There are just so many things that are bad about legal education. Your post touches upon one of them. There are so many law schools, law professors, and law grads that there is this need to create distinctions which are meaningless.

During my time at law school, my law school created multiple law professor teaching awards based on student evaluations at the end of the semester. All the law professors would add that they received this excellence in teaching award to their resumes. The granting of the award is easily manipulated, meaningless, and self-serving.

I also have an issue with SuperLawyers and Avvo rankings for attorneys on similar grounds. What in the world is a Superlawyer? Can they bend steel or jump over buildings?

Anonymous said...

And we'll throw in a set of Ginsu knives with which to open a vein when it dawns on you that you have incurred $200k of debt for a useless degree.

Operators are standing by.