Thursday, September 25, 2014

The New Craze: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING . . . for law professors

I want to start this rile-free posting by noting much of what is here applies to me although perhaps not quite as much as it does to the majority of law professors.

I also want to start from the premise  that in law teaching the minimal goal is not "do no harm" but "do some good."  I'll put aside my view that this means about 95% of legal scholarship falls outside the "do some good" category. (Ok, now it is aside.)

How are law professors supposed to know what it means to do some good as in making someone better off? This is the problem, most law professors when straight for grade grubbing undergraduates to grade grubbing at a small group of so called elite law schools. Most have had very few life experiences that would help them understand what it means to "do good" or why one might choose to "do good" for those worst off in society. (I like to say sometimes some law professors seem to  "have feelings too," just really tiny ones.  That is likely not true -- they probable have the same capacity to feel as anyone else, they just do not know from experience how certain things feel.)

If we are turning to experiential learning for students, how about some experiential learning for law professors so they will have a fuller idea of the breadth of "do good." To this end I am hereby propose to the ABA, the AALS, the ASPC and whatever  that all wannabe law professors and incumbents be required to select three of the following activities in order to improve their teaching and the quality of their scholarship:

1. Live as a homeless person for 2 months.
2. Go without dental or medical care for 10 years.
3. Take no vacations of any kind for 5 years.
4.  Work as a laborer on a construction site for 6 months.
5. Do not eat out except in fast food restaurants for 5 years.
6. Don't own a Prius but get by on $30 worth of gas a month.
7. Teach 9th graders at a school located in a urban low income neighborhood.
8. Bus tables for 8 hours a day 6 days a week.
9. Be a firefighter or police officer for a year.
10. Work as the nurse in an emergency room, operate a bulldozer in 95 degrees, process chicken, etc.

This is only a partial list of experiential learning opportunities for law teachers because, let's face it, is there a more inexperienced group than the people who teach and write about law?


Fred said...

I agree with your overall point but I think you're exaggerating it.

Yes, the general trend is undergraduate -> elite JD -> optional elite phd/llm/ma -> law professor. But I think if you look at your colleagues' bios you'll see a lot of them have at least 2 or more years working as associates for firms, clerks for judges, attorneys for NGOs. Even the elitiest of the elite can usually say they worked a year after law school or had some summer associate experience.

But now that I write this I'm not so sure this is what you're referring to. You wrote about "doing good". I agree, this is harder to find in the resume lines. There are the occasional professors who have been public defenders, or worked as civil liberties lawyers, but in general you don't find this kind of experience too much.

But I can't really blame them. This is because "doing good" isn't really naturally related to a lot of the legal profession. I have an analogy. If you want to be the best rocket scientest, you're going to get an engineering degree and maybe end up at MIT and even become a professor there. None of your professional experience is going to involve "doing good" because there is no need for a public rocket science clinic for the underserved. Similarly, if you want to be the best mergers & acquisitions lawyer, you're not going to have any "doing good" experience, instead you will have professional experience working at firms and your academic experience.

Jeffrey Harrison said...

Yes, we are not talking about the same thing in the beginning of your comment. I think we are in the second half. To me, law is distinguishable from rocket scientists and the like, that is if one thinks, as I do, that legal education, especially tax payer subsidized legal education, should be about justice.