Friday, May 16, 2014

Crab Legs, One Point for Scalia, and the Big Mac Attack

If I were keeping Scalia score I would have to revise the total to 1 for Scalia and 1,000,000 against instead of the previous score of 0 to 1,000,000. The reason has to do with this commencement speech at William and Mary. I cannot say I agree with all of it but, in a nutshell, it is a argument for more required and general courses. Where I do not agree is perhaps on the specific courses.

There are two implications of his talk that are directly relevant for this blog. They have to do with two recently discussed themes:  elitists control law schools for their own ends; law school is now a commodity promoted like Big Macs. In fact we now have BOGO where you can get two years of education for the price of one.

I'll leave you to check out what students may take these days at your law school. I know at my law school you can learn to meditate, stare at a raisin, talk about what it means to be you, go to the beach for a week to student beach law. etc. (So far, no yoga or nutrition classes but I am thinking of proposing some because they are as usefull as any others.)  there are many, many others that, I admit,  I  would like to take myself but it would not be out of a sense of obligation to the profession.

The problem is that these courses and the choices seem to have little connection to actual clients. Yet, public law schools, in any rational sense, exist for clients. On the other hand, what actually happens in law school is for the teachers  and students.

On the teacher side it's about teaching either what your current interests are or whatever political ax you are grinding. Whether it connects to clients is beside the point.  But that is what you get when an entire institution is captured and run primarily by people who have lived in the upper 10%.

Of course, recently the importance of selling law school like a McDonald's meal has gummed up the works and the need to attract consumers means not just doing exactly what professors want but what students want as well.  Some of them, a generally more honorable group than the profs, actually have in mind advancing their own welfare by advancing that of clients. Others view the school as bit of a travel agency. There are summer programs here and there where no teacher who wants to go back will take roll or give less than a B. And don't forget the exchange programs where only a dumb bunny would not spend most of the time touring. Still others worship at the alter of the GPA and I can hardly blame them. Until employers realize how very little GPA means, the students have  little choice. (I have know some high GPA students who I would not let tie my shoe and I am sure Rod Stewart feels the same way.) So they take the raisin class and others like because it means high grades. They flock to independent study and externships often to defend an already in-the-books decent GPA. At my school, if you play your cards right you can take over 50% of your credit on pass-fail. You only fail if you are dumb enough to walk out of a grocery store without paying for crab legs.

If you think of law schools like corporations, the faculty are the managers and they routinely give themselves the highest compensation possible even it is in the form of not grading, teaching fun stuff, and taking a week or two off here and there. The customers are the students who get to choose what their legal education looks like. For many it looks like and is as nutritious as a Big Mac. Oh, the shareholderS? Fuck'em! But you knew that, right?

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