Tuesday, March 19, 2013

On the "good faith" of Tamara Piety and other law professors.

"The bottom line here is that law professors are easy targets because so much of what they do (even when they are doing it well) is fairly hidden from view and has no immediate market value; plus, they are relatively powerless to influence almost any part of the system which is currently the source of so much pain....I will never be able to convince anyone otherwise who is determined to see most professors as acting in bad faith that they are not, that they care deeply about teaching and their students. And I fail to see how law teaching is more morally compromising than a host of other jobs in the legal profession - doing mortgage foreclosures? Representing BP? But I do think that those professors who do believe they are scamming their students, that they have nothing of value to offer, that they are committing a fraud -- well perhaps they should quit."  
--Professor Tamara Piety, University of Tulsa Law School,  at Feb 25, 2013 12:28:47 AM, in comment thread on "The Costs of Legal Scholarship" at "PrawfsBlawg."
I have said some highly critical and sarcastic things about legal academics. But the one thing I have never doubted is that most law professors, particularly Tamara Piety, are convinced of their own rectitude. They are not acting in bad faith; on the contrary, as Piety states, she and most of her law professor colleagues "care deeply," and believe they provide valuable guidance to their students.

What I do not understand is why Prof. Piety thinks this belief is anything other than a very basic kind of self-serving delusion, held in common with any run-of-the-mill politician or public relations hack. As Noam Chomsky stated: "If there’s something you want to do, it’s really easy to convince yourself it’s right and just. You put away evidence that shows that’s not true. So it’s self-deception but it’s automatic, and it requires significant effort and energy to try to see yourself from a distance." Or in the harsher formulation of poet Wislawa Szymborska, "If snakes had hands/ They would claim their hands were clean."
 
Prof. Piety takes strange consolation in the possibility that she may be hurting fewer people through an academic life made possible by her students’ misplaced trust and astonishing debt loads than she would through a career of active lawyering. What if she stopped teaching law school and represented BP or a predatory mortgage lender? Wouldn’t that be worse? Tamara Piety's comment made me think of a robber, caught in the act, who says, "I fail to see how robbing is more morally compromising than a host of other crimes." But that is unfair because, unlike the robber, Tamara "cares deeply" and is not acting in bad faith.
 
I would argue that, even within the confines of Piety’s hypothetical, a practicing lawyer who is representing a (monstrous) client like BP is less morally compromised than most legal academics. Lawyering is about zealously, effectively, and ethically representing your clients within the rules. The BP lawyer is fulfilling his or her obligation to his or her client, as a professional should. And the BP lawyer will not go unanswered-- his or her arguments will be countered by opposing counsel and evaluated by a hopefully skeptical judiciary.
 
In contrast to the BP lawyer, what does a law professor like Tamara Piety provide to her clients, aka students, the kids who borrow an average of over $100,000 to attend law school, a chunk of which goes to scratch Tamara's itching palm? A few months worth of doctrine stretched to fill three long years? Some alleged educational experiences that have "no immediate market value"? The radiant glory of a diploma from a law school deemed by US News to be the 87th best? Entry into a hyper-glutted profession, that is glutted precisely because of the behavior of law schools in producing way more lawyers than there are lawyer jobs, year after year? Public dressings-down and ridicule, administered by Tamara's law professor colleagues, to graduates who have the "insolence" or "impertinence" to offer critical input?
 
To Tamara and other law professors I would say: For three years, your students did what you told them to do. They sat quietly in your classes and transcribed your words of wisdom, or they spoke when "called on" in class, like circus animals. And they paid you quite handsomely so that you could ponder and write in areas of your scholarly interest, a worklife of far greater autonomy, ease, and job security than they will likely ever experience. Now, it is your turn to listen to what your graduates have to say-- to the ever-diminishing proportion of your grads who have carved out a place in the law and to the rest for whom law school was a life-ruining wipeout. Listen respectfully to your former students and take their cares and concerns to heart, following the example of Paul Campos and a handful of others. And then even I will respect the value of your "good faith."
 
 

34 comments:

  1. Good post. Professors like her, if they wanted to teach, could actually make a difference teaching in high schools. But that would involve "teaching", and a 75% minimum cut in salary. In law schools the professors make no difference. Or I should say that they make a net negative difference.

    I'm tired of this BS about how charitable and giving they are. There are thousand of better ways to show their care if they thought if was important.

    Her entire comment is a set piece, honed over decades of professors BS, designed to convince the vast majority of idiots who will read it and say, with no further thought, that she is telling the truth.

    Which makes this site important as the other side if the story must be told. These ideas and people must be challenged.

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  2. Pious: one who makes a hypocritical display of virtue.

    She could not have picked a better name (other than Prof. Scammer or Prof. Lyinbitch).

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  3. If she thinks that professoring is better than lawyering, that tells you the immorality of law school expansion.

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  4. Lusty Larry Gives Goid ToiletMarch 19, 2013 at 5:24 AM

    Awww. Ms. "Piety" cares sobdeeply...about her six figure make work job and perceived social status. Not the lemmings who attend her toilet law school.and incur six figures of debt for the privilege of hearing her paraphrase from commercial.outlines. She's a disgrace.

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  5. Good takedown, dybbuk.

    I've read some of Piety's (lol, can't get over the irony) attempts at discussion at TFL, along with her remonstrances to keep it civil and engage in open dialouge. Blah blah blah. We don't need more professorial "engagement." As if talk ever solved anything.

    I used to have a healthy respect for academia - now, no more. If being a professor is as morally ambiguous as representing BP (lol wut?), then the entire system is faulty, and the whole thing needs to be burned to the ground and rebuilt.

    "We're not that bad, our function is ambiguous at best, so just pay us anyway." If this is their best argument, then the law schools should tear their clothes and sit in sackcloth and ashes.

    If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

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    1. dybbuk is a true legend, and with this kind of quality of smackdown he's (is he a he?) is really making a name for himself.

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  6. Massive props for the shout-out to my main man, Professor Norman Chomsky.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=djV1_KlLckA

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  7. From the University of Tulsa law school tuition page:

    "There is no greater investment opportunity than a legal education. This investment will open substantial opportunities for you, whether you intend to pursue a traditional career in law, a non-traditional career in law, or use your law degree to enhance an existing expertise in a particular field. Whatever your goal may be, The University of Tulsa College of Law provides an affordable and exceptionally strong legal education to give you the tools you need to pursue diverse careers in law and other professions."

    After all, the school charges only $16,714! Oh wait, that's per semester, so make that $33,428.

    Scum.

    The good news is that Piety (great name) is going to be without a job within five years when her school closes - guess she will have to take a Biglaw partnership as an alternative.

    Campos will keep his job - she will lose hers.

    There is justice.

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  8. The law professors are attacking the heathen because they are terrified of losing their jobs.

    At this point, all they are trying to do is string out the scam for a few years longer, before it all collapses.

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  9. If she wanted to make a difference, she'd hand out bar review materials first day of class, and hold practice tests every other day. Learned more about contracts during 3 months studying for bar than a whole year of pointless discussions.

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  10. Keep up the good work!

    For every bullshit profs say, be there to call them out, I will be there to read and comment.

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  11. Another solid effort.

    This:

    "And I fail to see how law teaching is more morally compromising than a host of other jobs in the legal profession - doing mortgage foreclosures? Representing BP?"

    is one of the damning things I've ever heard a professor say. Everyone - including banks and oil companies and child rapists - is entitled to ethical legal representation. It does not mean - and it never has meant - that the attorney agrees with what the client has done or condones it. It's a common trope lobbied at criminal defense attorneys by a misinformed public. There's no moral compromising because one's personal morals rarely ever enter into it, and if they do, the lawyer should withdraw or refuse representation. Tamara's failure to grasp this is likely a product of her not being a law office for over 15 years. But it does show that she's likely unqualified to be teaching students how to effectively represent clients if she thinks moral compromise is a necessity.

    Meanwhile, working as a law professor, one necessarily derives their income from unethical activities. Whereas the criminal defense attorney derives his income from ethically representing clients before a tribunal, the law professor gains her salary by spitting out sticker-paying lemmings by the boat full. There's absolutely a moral compromise at issue.

    Oh, and the woman still lists her class rank (6th!) on her CV, and she's been out of law school for over 20 years.

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  12. Excellent post! keep up the good work.

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  13. This is one of the best, most thoughtful posts on the scam I have read to date. I wish Prof. Piety would take it to heart but I fear she will not even pause to ponder.

    Tricia Dennis

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    1. Aww, thanks Tricia! (And good to see an ITLSS veteran).

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    2. Patricia Piety, Tamara's proud mother.September 18, 2013 at 10:02 AM

      Why all these anonymous posts? Is courage not a component in the character of these high-minded critics?

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  14. This is a great post and about as good as any from Lawprof himself!

    As for my take on this, the thing I have pointed out many times is that "law teaching" IN AND OF ITSELF is not "morally compromising". What is morally compromising though is inducing naive lemmings to borrow and spend mortgage size amounts and three years in the hope of making a decent living practicing law.

    So no its not the "law teaching" itself that is immoral, per se (although much teaching is in fact less than useless), but the fraud of law school. Were law schools graduating only enough students to meet demand and were the "RoA" reasonable based on cost, the "law teaching" wouldn't be "immoral", even if it needs desperate reform.

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  15. Even if Prof P stepped away from teaching law school, out of moral enlightenment, where would she go?

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    1. Any chance you feel like authoring an entry containing the 'Professors Who Need To Be Fired' list? You could bump it every time someone else is added.

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    2. I think I do. I'll email the admin and see what I can work out. I have a few ideas.

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    3. Ha! Great. I would love to see that. Get people to do write ups of their most offensive teachers from LS.

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  17. In reality, Tulsa is a third-tier trash heap and Tamara Piety is raking in the moola scamming her students, most of whom don't have a fucking prayer of getting a real law job in OK or elsewhere. Bitch.

    Pi*et*y. noun. Insincere attitude: a conventional or hypocritical statement or observance of a belief.

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    1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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    2. It's a triple dog dare, but I like the effort.

      "Now, I know that some of you put Flick up to this. But, he has refused to say who. But those who did it know their blame. And I'm sure the guilt you feel...is far worse than any punishment you might receive. Now, don't you feel terrible? Don't you feel remorse for what you have done?"

      I doubt that Piety feels much remorse for her career, leeching off the student loan teat and ruining lives while she believes in her own value.

      I can only hope there's a hell, because there's a special place reserved for law professors.

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  18. The thing is that most lawprofs are powerless employees and I think they like it that way. We can debate forever whether lawprofs are underworked but they will agree that their work is fairly predictable and less taxing than private practice.

    What I don't get about lawprofs and lawadmins is why most of them do not speak out about closing down or severely limiting the enrollment of subpar schools. My educated guess is that they feel that they are a part of a collective and think others are beneath them. Or lawprofs don't want to speak out because they don't want to be a pariah, be the first on the layoff chopping block should academic layoffs happen and be Brian Leiter's next blog target.

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    1. Other than maybe HYS, all law schools today suffer from the same structural problem of too many JDs too little work for all of them.

      The problem is worse at the Cooleys of the world but they aren't exactly great at, say, American University or even Georgetown. If anything, the grads at these "trap schools" have it the worse because they presumably could have pursued other paths while most likely the most bottom tier grads probably have nothing to lose.

      So for self-interested reasons, pointing out these issues is really not going to help you but hurt you.

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    2. Campos showed that they are not powerless. I think that they just don't want to speak up. And to be honest, neither would I if I was making bank for doing fuck all. Who seriously would derail that gravy train?

      They have power. They can go Campos and speak out. They can add their voice to the movement. Campos really did show that one single voice can make a huge difference.

      Sadly, he wasn't backed up by the cowards who were happy to take the money and run.

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  19. Campos in US News

    http://www.usnews.com/education/best-graduate-schools/top-law-schools/articles/2013/03/19/make-an-informed-decision-when-considering-law-school

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  22. I'm sure that this response will be roundly criticized much as the comments of professor Piety have been. As near as I can tell, the point of this blog is like the point of Fox News -- a giant circle jerk of people who agree with each other agreeing with each other to make each other feel good and justified and righteous, even if they don't know fuck-all what they're talking about. Okay, circle-jerkers, here are some original thoughts. Law school is not trade school. It doesn't profess to teach you to fix the air conditioner or make a precise miter cut. Law school is a form of higher education. Focus for a moment, lemmings, on the word "higher." Think! Use your brain! Understand the relevance of Hammurabi and the Ten Commandments and Solon and their relevance to your life today. Oops, my bad, you're without a clue right about now, aren't you? Unless, of course, you've had a higher education. Understand the debate between the federalists and the anti-federalists (have I lost you again?) that persists to this day. Understand the evolution of corporate hegemony from Dartmouth College to Citizens United. Yeah, yeah, lost you yet another time. I know I'm not preaching to the choir, I'm talking to the tin ears. Venal interests. Wahhhhh! Where's my job?! How am I going to pay off the loans I VOLUNTARILY signed up for?! Waaaaahhhhhhhhh! It's all professor Piety's fault. You bunch of self-interested nincompoops. The law is who we are. Without it, we're hyenas munching on entrails. Don't you get it? Shakespeare's cool, right? But does he get you a job? "Recent grad of Ivy League school ready to do some Shakespearing, six figures required." What a laugh. And yet, do we ignore Shakespeare? Do we ignore philosophy? Ok, ok, Soren Kierkegarrd was one gloomy sob, but can you ignore him any more than you can ignore Aristotle or Kant? Do we ignore history? Slavery? Religious idiocy? Should all those professors who address these subjects be fired because they're part of a big scam that doesn't get you the job you want you self-centered "I'm entitled" weenie? Law school is not a trade school! It's a place where people of intellectual curiosity and interest in the human condition go to learn how to think about and approach the most intriguing dilemmas of our day, or of any day. Sound like you? Nah . . . . Where's my six-figure job? Blah, blah, blah. So here's the deal. Want a job? Go learn a trade like programming an ATM to charge bank customers for accessing their own money, or fixing a road that doesn't need to be fixed because your cousin Stevie is over-friendly with the county-commissioner's daughter. That's not what the law is about. Want to learn what the law is all about? Go take a class from professor Piety or from the many other law professors who don't give a rat's ass about your future income, but who do care deeply about the law.

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  23. I like how Piety fastened a Harvard LLM to a resume festooned with.a Miami JD and FLorida Internariomal University BA.

    That's my harpoon for the day....


    Please. Enough.

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