Friday, May 17, 2013

Why do unqualified SLU law professors promote the teaching of "cultural competence"?

Here are a couple of quotes from two law professors at St. Louis University School of Law (SLU), that wackiest of all law schools. The law professors, Eric Miller and Jeff Redding, propose expanding or enhancing their law school's curriculum to include instruction in what they call "cultural competence." Now, I am progressive too, and would like to believe that cultural competence pedagogy produces young lawyers with enhanced abilities to help people who are suffering. But a cruel suspicion remains--are these academics just seeking a cheap way to feel noble and self-righteous while scamming their students, the kids who are borrowing $100,000 to pay for a legal education? First the quotes and then a few more thoughts below.
But even if a professor teaches nothing but (supposedly) abstract ideas of subordination: a class that is at its core focused on cultural competence addresses one of the most pressing needs in the curriculum, and especially one that low-end practice requires. Too often, the core classes (and sometimes the skills ones too) dismiss as irrelevant the features of race and gender, or power and subordination, that students raise and that that clients experience. So if we’re going to have students think outside the box to engage with the sorts of clients the traditional law firm overlooks, then how better to train students do so than to identify with those clients."  SLU Law Prof. Eric Miller  
http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2013/02/the-laundry-list-of-irrelevant-subjects.html
"I am a co-chair of our Multiculturalism Affairs Committee here at SLU Law, and our (faculty/staff/student) committee is in the midst of discussions about ways to enhance ‘cultural competence’ at SLU Law. One thought as to how to do so is to introduce changes into the curriculum, concertedly oriented towards exposing students to the legal and social issues faced, both historically and contemporarily, by racial minorities, immigrants, women, Native Americans, queer folk, the disabled, and others. Discussions are at a very preliminary stage, but different thoughts have already emerged about how best to better incorporate the teaching of cultural competence into the curriculum" – SLU Law Prof. Jeff Redding.  

My initial thought is this: why not conduct a survey of clients from minority backgrounds to discover the level of importance they attach to culturally competent legal representation (whatever "culturally competent" means exactly). The importance is probably more than zero. But doesn't a client who hires a lawyer or who qualifies for appointed counsel want, most of all, a zealous, effective, and well-connected lawyer, someone who will help resolve his or her legal problem?  Is "cultural competence" really such an important component of professional assistance?  For  instance, do you want your dentist to weep with you over oppression and express a deep understanding of the "social issues" faced by your community and the struggles of your ancestors or do you want him or her to fix your damned toothache?

Moreover, isn't cultural competence best communicated to outsiders by persons from within a culture? I hate to be anti-intellectual here, but is a young white academic like Jeff Redding the right person to teach cultural competence as to the issues faced by racial minorities, women, and the disabled? Is he to be trusted to teach young lawyers how to relate to such clients simply because his CV lists fellowships and visiting professorships at many elite schools (though near-zero actual lawyering experience)? And even if Redding does have the right background to teach cultural competence, can we not remember that the young students are paying for a legal education, not a three year extension of their undergraduate studies in political science, sociology, or cultural studies? 

I have this wicked suspicion that certain law professors may be promoting cultural competence instruction in the law school classroom because they have little interest, knowledge, or background in the actual practice of law. I mean, Miller's CV indicates that he did not even go to the trouble of getting a JD, though he has an LLM from Harvard. Prior to becoming a law professor, he did a couple of nonconsecutive one year stretches with Quinn Emmanuel as a "litigation associate" and two one year-long judicial clerkships, along with three separate one-year long academic fellowships at Harvard (that is a lot of one-year long resume polishing positions, clearly this man was groomed for academia). Redding got a JD in 2000, and then did a bunch of fellowships and VAPs (in South Asian politics, his real specialty) prior to becoming a law professor in 2008. Bright guy, no doubt, but he wouldn't know the difference between a courtroom and a faculty lounge.
 
Professor Miller deems "supposedly abstract ideas" of "power and subordination" to be among the most pressing needs of the law school curriculum.  Arguendo, I will assume that to be true rather than the shabby attempt of an overpaid and under-qualified law professor to justify his status and salary. In satisfying this pressing need, I would only ask that he seek examples of power and subordination close to home. There is a lesson in power and subordination every time six-figure salaried SLU law profs reach deeper into the pockets of their massively indebted students, or cry to high heaven about the potential loss of their summer research stipends. There are lessons in "power and subordination," if you care to draw them out, in law schools' tuition, tenure practices, teaching loads, placement statistics, class size, student selectivity, and recruitment activities.

Do these academics ever think how strange it is that they are professing a field that they never really practiced? Probably not, they sound too arrogant, but my guess is that they do have a certain trepidation that their law students might begin to wonder about it. 

In spite of current reformist talk, I really doubt that law schools are willing or able to provide law students with serious training in legal practice, control tuition, restrain their tendency to provide lucrative law professorships to nonlaw scholars, or flood the market with newbie lawyers. So, perhaps, we should think about closing down nearly all law schools and turning over their functions to the practicing bar. The bar might be able to develop highly selective programs to train lawyers via  externships and clinics supervised by practitioners, a contemporary elaboration on the old 19th century apprenticeship model that produced such culturally competent lawyers as Abraham Lincoln, Clarence Darrow, and Justice Robert Jackson.

 

28 comments:

  1. This type of intellectual reasoning may be why these ivory tower shut-ins might think that eliminating competitive grading could help graduates with employment.

    www.abajournal.com/news/article/law_schools_should_mostly_ditch_c_grades_law_prof_argues/

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  2. "Ivory Tower shut-ins"...brilliant.

    The propositions these LawProf put forward often drip with douchebaggery. Even if they were relevant ideas, do you notice the not-so-subtle ego-stroke? "Too often, the core classes (and sometimes the skills ones too) dismiss as irrelevant the features...that students raise, and clients experience...[in order to] have students think outside the box to engage with the sorts of clients the traditional law firm overlooks."

    See that? You, outside-the-box law students, are above it all, and we white knight LawProfs are going to show you (and traditional firms) the most excellent way, although we know really nothing about you personally nor actual law practice. No one else EVER THOUGHT OF THESE ISSUES except me, but you law students are awesome and are going out there to save the world, unlike the private practice leeches, thanks to my instruction. Sign here, and fork over that $150k, thanks.

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    1. We already have a system that ensures lawyers don't think too far outside the box - it's called rule 11.

      Of course, this is of little concern within the ivory tower.

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    2. Gotta love the ivory tower. They're applying a principle to the wrong fact pattern.

      Come on. Teaching "concepts of power and subordination" and sexual orientation/identity? That's probably the best job I've ever seen of actually making a student truly 'practice ready' for BigLaw and many private law firms.

      They should have offered this cirriculum years ago, in pre-Bubble-Pop days.

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  3. Cultural competence? What a joke. Out here in the real world, Tamequa doesn't want your sympathy because she grew up in the projects and her brother is doing a 10 year bid in the state pen. She wants you to wrangle a 75 k settlement out of the defendants carrier in her slip and fall case.

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    1. Exactly. If these educated idiot professors had ever actually represented the people they claim to understand, they'd know it's about one thing when your client calls you: money.
      Clients like these guys are describing don't come to you because they want a friend. They want a legal outcome, like any other client. Return their calls as promptly as you can, speak to them in plain English about the status of their case, don't bullshit them, and don't lose your temper when they poke and prod you and accuse you of stealing their money because the case hasn't settled yet, as many of them will do. Do all that, and you will be fine. You don't need to be "down" with people to represent them successfully, you just need to be straight with them and do your fucking job.
      Clients who want to cry on your shoulder and create some kind of emotional bond are always crazy and their cases are rarely worth your time. Lawyers can't and don't fix people's lives, and they have no business trying. That's not the job. It's not social work.

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    2. C, law profs and ABA dons think lawyers SHOULD be social workers solving the problems of the underlcass/welfareclass. Thats why they created a system to overproduce lawyers.

      Marc Galanter, law prof extraordinaire, says America's problem is too few lawyers and too little litigation, especially the kind he and others see as problem-solving for the poor.

      --Jim

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  4. This is great news because it shows that the study of law --and by extension, law school-- is and has always been yet another humanities-based academic endeavor and in no way training for a profession that is remunerative in nature. Going to law school is like getting that poli-sci major. It makes you neither politician nor scientist. It simply gave you a college degree-- a title.

    But before you get all wound up over at the cafe about education that will "make you practice ready," please remember that the practice is governed by Market Forces and that it is the demand for legal services that drives hiring of lawyers. There are thousands of practice hardened veterans looking for cases or job offers. The academy cannot create demand.

    In the final analysis, there's not a damned thing the academy can do about the actual practice of law save to create a firewall to slow hordes of newly licensed attorneys from flooding the practice. The fact that the schools are now turning to theoretical, politicized teaching is revealing.

    In the fall of 2013 it would be nice to see that the number of students interested in pursuing the study of law equals that of those interested in an advanced degree in medieval history.

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  5. The idea here is that St. Louis is the bottom of the barrel. Most of its students will need to practice as solos or in tiny firms, if they are able to practice at all. The message here is we are going to teach you to represent those who are at the lowest level of society because they have no money. Someone who is gay and successful is going to be able to pay for legal services the one or two times in their lives they need a lawyer. Same for someone who is female and successful or from a minority background and successful. They want to teach their students to represent those who cannot pay for lawyers? That is what a St. Louis law degree has come down to. There is almost no room in the legal profession for those from schools like St. Louis any more. Was different a long time ago, but not today. So St. Louis is telling their students to do something that does not make sense - we will teach you to squeeze blood out of a stone.

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    1. Precisely. Law school is really just a Jonestown cool aid dispensary. Just say hell no,--I won't go.

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  6. "I am a co-chair of our Multiculturalism Affairs Committee here at SLU Law, and our (faculty/staff/student) committee is in the midst of discussions about ways to enhance ‘cultural competence’ at SLU Law. One thought as to how to do so is to introduce changes into the curriculum, concertedly oriented towards exposing students to the legal and social issues faced, both historically and contemporarily, by racial minorities, immigrants, women, Native Americans, queer folk, the disabled, and others. Discussions are at a very preliminary stage, but different thoughts have already emerged about how best to better incorporate the teaching of cultural competence into the curriculum" – SLU Law Prof. Jeff Redding.

    These professors are mad. Do you know what cultural competence is? It's treating people with respect and dignity. It is good manners; you know, that which your mother taught you. You do not need to spend 150k to learn these skills from a pedantic, densely verbaged law professor. (Sigh) Yet another variation on the scam.

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  7. Jesus effing Christ, I am reading this crap while sitting in a library and I'm about to ROOOAAAAARRRRRRRR with anger and throw stuff around and probably smash a couple of windows. This is insane!

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  8. This is indoctrination to leftist ideas. Miller and Redding want everybody to think like they do. Meanwhile, they are part of the law school scam. They are exactly the professors that Tamanaha was talking about in his article. We need the ability to think freely, not indoctrination by elitists.

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  9. This sounds like what the Nazis and Communists did.

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    1. Yes, the Nazis and Communists were famous for having courses on multiculturalism. Their support of these muticulturalism ideals led to WWII and the Cold War, and the death of millions.

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    2. Nice strawman, Professor. The context was clearly "corporate indoctrination with lip-service to the Good, in reality benefitting the priviledged few at the expense of the many."

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  10. Cultural competence=leftist indoctrination

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  11. Odds that our white "culturally competent" professors here would freely venture north of Delmar, ride MetroLink to the airport, or go to the near east side of the river outside of car: .000000001% chance.

    Odds that they live in one of the following locations: downtown hotel/high-rise, CWE, any of the suburbs running from Clayton to Chesterfield: 90+%.

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  12. This is nothing new. Law schools have been teaching leftist ideology for years.

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  13. Has does this affect academic freedom? Conservative professors won't teach this postmodern carp.

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  14. I love how they assume that their students don't come from a minority background and need to be 'taught' the struggles of minorities by rich, well-to-do, and well-connected professors who probably haven't financially struggled in the last 20 years. Yes, please teach the future Wal-Mart workers of American, aka law students, what it's like to be at the bottom of the totem pole so that they can prepare...

    It sounds to me like the ones who truly need to learn to be 'culturally competent' are the professors themselves, who could stand to learn a little more about the financial struggles most of their students face or will face in the future. Maybe it's the students who should be teaching the professors about this. They honestly haven't got a clue.

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    1. This ^. I strongly suspect SLU students are a damn sight more 'culturally competent' than the upper-middle class professors who purport to teach them such skills.

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  15. There is a major academic freedom problem here. You can't force someone to teach ideology, and this proposal is ideology.

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    1. What about students' academic freedom? What happens if they don't accept the teachings of the Multiculturalism Affairs Committee?

      --Jim

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  16. "The Multiculturalism Affairs Committee"

    Your tuition dollars at work, and don't you DARE imagine 1$ can be cut from the price of a JD, or else you are in favor of bringing back segregation.

    This sort of garbage has nothing to do with law. I know a very conservative attorney who gets along just fine with clientele from "vibrant communities." Like most lawyers the only color he cares about is green.

    --Jim

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    1. Obviously, you don't believe in ACADEMIC FREEDOM.

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  17. I couldn't even keep reading after the first sentence that was quoted from these idiots' rationalization of this disgusting idea. It's just too embarrassing. These guys make wall street look like a bunch of Marxists. Thank you guys/gals for effort in highlighting this crap. Keep up the good work.

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