"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."