Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Getting Back My Rile

Have not written much lately -- just have not been riled enough. I am not sure what accounts for that.

Could be that I became a grandfather and my thoughts are on that. Could be that we have a new "acting" dean who is pretty direct so, for the most part you know what he is thinking. This would be in comparison to the old dean who seemed to get the vapors if he had to say something that would be controversial or offend one of the "yes" people.

It could be that I have been doing my best to avoid gossip. In fact, I have imposed an embargo on my best pal on the faculty from telling me anything that two blabber mouths who are often wildly inaccurate and mischievous have to say no matter what and for all time.

And, there is a pretty reliable source saying that the world's least rational and most single-personality-driven foreign program is kaput.

But my rile came back a bit lately. Partly it is the result of an empirical study that shows that citation in law reviews is largely correlated with the status of the school you attended. Yes, the elites prefer to cite the elites. My hunch -- actually far more than a hunch since I have been told this by law review editors -- is that articles by elites are more likely to be read in a timely way and accepted. Why? because top reviews perpetuate the elitist system in legal education.

And then there is this piece from the New York Times. discussing the failure of elite colleges to make much if any progress in admitting those who are not privileged. You should read it but this quote from the article captures most of it, "But critics contend that on the whole, elite colleges are too worried about harming their finances and ranking to match their rhetoric about wanting economic diversity with  with action." Is there really any surprise here? Why would there be? When was the last time your hiring committee was even willing to break bread with a stellar state school grade as opposed to bottom of the top third at an Ivy.

Of course they don't because it would be an admission that they are not so special. Plus, little Nancy or Trevor may be in the market for a law teaching job some day and it's better for them if the system stays as rigged as a clipper ship.

Yep, the privileged are not giving it up until it is ripped from their greedy little paws or it is torn down. I'm up for either one.   

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Public Law School Dilemma

Recently a colleague circulated a list of various specialties our law school offers and the enrollment in the highest enrollment classes within each specialty. In effect, it was a assessment of the demand for various classes. The effort was to assist us in long term planning. Where are we using resources and where should they be used? It is a really tough question for public law schools which I guess are really only quasi-public these days.

As one might expect, the demand for law school classes is a derived demand. That is, demand is determined by what is selling in the market. So, there is a high demand for business oriented courses and a low demand for family law, environmental, criminal law, and poverty law.

To me this captures the dilemma of today's law schools. Do they serve market  demand or not. I think I know what most will do if for no other reason than to survive. The problem is that public law schools exist, or so I thought, to produce public goods. I cannot think of another justification. Why else force tax payers to foot a substantial part of the bill?

The public good rationale would mean offering courses in areas in which attorneys cannot internalize the benefits of the services they sell. This would mean more attorneys specializing in consumer law, perhaps family law, and environmental law -- all areas with poor financial prospects because the demand (or should I say need) for those areas is not manifested in the market.

The problem is that while my school offers a huge supply of those types of training, the demand is very low. If one were only interested in matching supply and demand there are two answers. One is to decrease supply. The other is to increase demand or apparent demand.  In other words, make those classes more attractive to students and I do not mean by giving everyone an A. Instead, you stimulate demand by making investment in those area attractive. I do not suppose there is any way to cause salaries to increase but another approach would be to decrease costs so that the return to investment rises.

What does this mean? Perhaps differential tuition for those willing to practice, at least for some period of time, in areas in which there are public good elements. Or scholarships for those willing to concentrate in those areas.

Pie in the sky, I know but if public schools only serve market demand, why do they exist?