Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Too Smart

Over on Moneylaw and elsewhere a discussion has started about the relevance of legal scholarship. Maybe there is a bigger issue. Other than teaching, how much of what law professors do is only relevant only for each other? Sadly, I woul say about 57%.

Here is the catch. Being a law professor is only in part about teaching, research, and service in the interest of making others better off. Instead it is an exercise in self justifcation and one-ups-man-ship. Something along the line of "I must be important because Professor Jones at Elite Law School spoke to me at the annual meeting on Post-Natal law." Ego, that is.

The fact is that you de not have to be very smart to be a good law professor. Just being a little smart and preparing for class will be fine for the teaching part. Most students will be far behind. Not all mind you, but most. On the scholarship side . . . Can we talk?? There are no concepts in law that tax the brain like those found in economics, math, physics, engineering. Zero. Any halfway decent law teacher can teach any law course given enough time to prepare. There are very smart people in law but what does that mean? It means they need to write really smart articles in order to impress other people who are also smart -- way smarter than necessary to do everything a law teacher needs to do. And so there is a awful lot of self-indulgent ultimately irrelevant writing.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Needy Deans

Over on MoneyLaw the role deans play in the allowing faculty to fleece law school stakeholders -- students, taxpayers, contributors has been covered although in more gentle terms. I think it is fair to say that the the oft stated idea of "dean as an agent of the faculty" or "to serve the faculty" is the type of thinking that means disaster unless the faculty happens to have internalized the goal of giving stakeholders a fair shake.

The problem is that deans choose to act as though their faculties fit that description when they do not. And they know that about their faculty but do not want to deal with the reality. What goes into the thinking of people who choose to be deans and then adopt the head in the sand approach to deaning. Please note that not all take approach. For example, sometimes a faculty that is underproducing would like do to better and is looking for a leader. Other deans may not take that approach and be looking for a job in 2-3 years.

Still why does someone ask to be a dean knowing -- at least at some level -- that their job will be do accommodate an underachieving faculty. In fact it is worse, the job is do deflect scrutiny of the faculty. My hunch is that three ingredients are necessary to make for the "needy dean."

1. A lackluster career as a scholar. This means little job satisfaction as a regular faculty member and a mid life crisis type reaction. This person should not have opted for an academic job in the first place.

2. Money. I do not know what Law School deans make but there are few instances in which it is not significantly above what they could earn as faculty. In there academic careers they are going no where (at least in their own terms) and accepting a deanship means an instance substantial life-style affecting salary increase.

3. A infinite capacity to rationalize. I do not think most failing deans are dishonest. What they do have in common is an ability to see virtually everything a faculty does as a good idea. Of course, it is only a good idea because this approach reduces decanal dissonance.

Obviously if the stakeholders had a say "needy deans" would not be hired. The frightening thing is that a complacent underachieving faculty is looking for exactly this type of person.

Let's compare it to a corporation. The faculty are like the sales staff padding their expense accounts only the form it takes is minimal teaching loads, low enrollments, condition-free summer grants, low scholarship levels. The needy dean is like a CEO who knows the story but is frozen because he or she is, well, needy.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Law and Economics True Believers

In my experience there is a correlation between those who scoff at law and economics and having a privileged background. Yet, ironically, these folks turn out to be the true practitioners of the teachings of law and economics. Or, more accurately, these are the people who best fit the economist's assumption of narrow self-interest.

I have already discussed the guilt free, free-riding tendencies of the privileged. The key is to never ever risk anything in the interest of the community. (And it is hardly a risk to grandstand about an issue close to the hearts of the choir.) In addition, they take no risks even in their own interest if there is a chance someone else will.

The other characteristic of the practitioners is that they are massive externality producers. They are always angling for the law teacher's ideal -- the 0 credit teaching load. If not that, then classes capped at low numbers, few preparations, classes on one or two days a week, etc. They never leave a penny on the table. All of these demands (opps, excuse me, the privileged do not "demand," they "require") mean more work for others. Or, they mean hiring more faculty. Either way, their pursuit of a life of leisure or of doing what they decided they want to do, whether or not it serves the interests of law school stakeholders, is costly to others.

One of the way these requirements manifest themselves is the treatment of those who are lower on the law school pecking order. At my school, when a staff person is mistreated there is a 90% change the faculty person involved is one of the privileged ones.

It appears the privileged and especially privileged members of the choir behave like the economist's economic man far more than any actual law and economics true believers do.