Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who Put the Drive Through Window in Law School?

Lean times mean that people look for ways to save money. It also means that producers look for ways to cut costs and, accordingly, cut the quality of what they do. That is the good news. The bad news is that whether times are lean or not, a shirking faculty -- the self appointed shareholders of law schools -- promote the same quality reducing measures. Whether driven my lean times or just faculty cost cutting, its impact is to lower nutritional levels thus creating the McLawschool. Several items on the menu reflect the McCulture of today's legal education.

1. Massive reliance on adjunct professors (a good thing if you are in a city where the pool is large, not so good in a college town where the pool is small) with little or no screening. Some are good some are not but they often work for the honor of being able so say they are "professors." No one ever asks if they know what they are doing and as long as they are nice, give good notes, and seems smart the students will not tell. In fact, some students want you to super-size that.

2. Subcontracting by virtue of externships. No teacher necessary except for a weekly phone call. In some cases, the externs work for for profit making entities. Yes, the school subsidizes the private sector by giving students credit for helping generate more dough for others. No money for the students, though. If they need it, they price is the credit they would otherwise get.

3. High margin desserts. These are the extras that are good at the time but are unlikely to make you a better lawyer. Foreign programs go to the head of the class here. It's actually more like a school running a travel agency. The experience is fun, like a nice like a big piece of Goode Company pecan pie, but about 2/3 of it is only that. As one student said," Don't worry about class, it's all graded on the curve."

4. If you can combine a summer program, with a semester abroad with an externship, you can spend half of your three years in law school not in law school. In fact, for people who do this, the a law school is just a drive through window.

When students are done with the three year meal, can they write, research and think critically?Maybe, but that will be determined largely by whether they could do those things before they arrived.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

New International Barista Law Program

[One of the most somber and well thought out processes at any Law School is the development of new International Programs. They can take many forms -- an externship in a foreign land, a summer program in a country that is likely to be important in the future of the students, an exchange with students or faculty, or just a decision to send people to a random country that a tantrum-prone faculty member has an affinity for in order to enlighten students there. Here is a proposal a friend at another school emailed me. I wish someone at my school had thought of it first.]

I will shortly present to my Foreign Programs Committee for their assured approval and eventual faculty affirmation "Comparative International Barista Law." This builds from the solid faculty already in place who are the leading experts on barista law, or at least coffee law, or maybe just drinking coffee -- which happens a whole bunch -- but it's really all the same.

In the summer program, a small group of highly qualified students (qualifed because they are affluent enough to afford it or willing to incur yet another several thousands of dollars in debt) will visit the coffee shop capitals of the world, INCLUDING, a super special side trip to Amsterdam so the full breath of coffee shop diversity can be fully experienced. For many this will be the high point of the trip and special arrangements will be made for students who wish to remain in Amsterdam to pursue graduate work. The on-site offices for this part of the program are at the Banana Head Coffee Shop.

Vienna, Rome and Rio are on the agenda with several coffee shops visited at each location. Guest speakers at each stop will discuss barista law issues in each country -- unionization, copyright, scalding, decaf v. caf., truth in labeling, over-serving liability, being wired, wire tapping, tap dancing (something done best after a double espresso) and trade usage when instructed to "leave room for milk or cream." The most focused part of the experience will be in depth interviews with baristas from each country in order to understand how they really feel so the can be healed by sensitized American students having a fun time.

The examination part of the course can be satisfied in one of three ways. Students may write a ten page essay on "What I learned this summer." It must be submitted on lined paper and written with a fountain pen.(Please no coffee stains.) Those students opting for a concentration in Amsterdam may, alternatively, submit photos of milk designs made on top of cappuccinos. Finally, students who find evaluation uncomfortable may forgo the examination process altogether.

Up With Barista Law

A friend of mine, who I would happily credit except for his/her strong objections, suggested recently that, given the odd assortment of courses law schools offer because faculty want to teach them and not because they have much to do with what students will actually do, our law school should offer Barista Law. I put barista law in google and to my surprise there is a growing area of law about baristas. Most of the cases deal with what they can wear. Evidently the big issue is whether wearing a bikini is OK. (Frankly I want no coffee served by someone in a bikini.) I am sure there will be cases about burns, caffeine addiction as an occupation hazard, competition from energy drinks, the rules applied to competitive baristering, copyright on the little designs made with milk in your cappuccino, the accreditation of barista training schools, over-serving liability, etc. There are probably casebooks being developed as I write this.

I laughed when my friend mentioned it but, after my research, I realized that there is more law in barista law than about a third of the courses law schools now offer. It's all part of allowing faculty to determine the curriculum as opposed to people who actually practice law or have practiced in the last ten years. As I have noted before, law school offerings are increasing looking like they are put together by people who thinking:

1. This is what practicing law would be about if it were done in heaven or at least in an ashram.
2. This is what practicing law would be about if it did not include the things that drove me away from the practice of law.
3. This is what a good curriculum would look like if the students did not matter.

So, let's get busy developing the barista law course so the students will actually deal with issues that they may have to confront in their professional lives.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Kenneth Oldfield and Class

Ken Oldfield, a fellow I have blogged about before, has a new article out "Social Class-Based Affirmative Action in High Places: Democratizing Dean Selection at America's Law Schools," 34 J. Leg. Prof. 307. I do not know if it is accessable yet since he was kind enough send a reprint. As far as I know he is the first to take on the class issue as it applies to high level administrative posts. His presentation is persuasive and thorough but I was struck mainly by a line that he quotes from Peter Sacks, class "is the grand organizing principle of our higher educations system." Of course the problem is that those who organize the system are not about to let go.