Friday, October 10, 2014

Vapid VAPs and Delusions of LawProf Grandeur

Following on the heels of dybbuk's excellent story about LawProfs mocking their students because they had not already achieved the pinnacle of legal nirvana, I am about to extend an invitation to Ray Campbell to just come on over and join OTLSS:
 

[A] conversation I had the other day made me think a bit about whether the shift to VAPs [Visiting Assistant Professor. -Ed.] as an entry point is good either for some candidates or for the legal academy. The conversation started with what Brian Tamanaha has skeptically called the "law professor mantra" that law professors should be paid more than other professors because they could make more in law practice. I wondered whether this has any validity given the modern world of practice. I reached out to Larry Latourette, a former big law partner who now is a principal in the legal headhunting firm of LateralLink, to see if law professors these days really have any options in private practice.
 
As I suspected, there wasn’t much of a story there. "Law professors are not marketable," Latourette said. "If they think they are they are kidding themselves."
 
For law firms, the main reason is that no one gets hired as a partner without a portable book of business. "About 98 percent of getting hired is the book of business," Latourette said.
 
 
Wait, what? Somebody call Brian Leiter! Clearly this Latourette character has a Tourette Syndrome problem of his own - namely, bad-mouthing legal scholars wantonly and uncontrollably. Haven't we heard for years that the only reason LawProfs teach is due to humble abasement and self-sacrifice, and that BigLaw would fall all over themselves in order to make a legal scholar Partner if only given the opportunity? LawProfs are like legal Paul-the-Apostles, longing to be with BigLaw-Christ, but staying behind solely for our benefit as believers in the law school pipe-dream, don't you know. 

 
He did note there were exceptions...[p]rofessors with active consulting or expert witness practices might persuade firms their marketability was proven. He also argued that people with the capabilities of your average law professor should find a role somewhere, even if the structure of the legal field made finding a private practice job difficult...[h]e acknowledged that at the outset of a teaching career the pay scales of private practice matter – the pay has to be enough to justify foregoing the higher pay of private practice. Even there, Latourette said, "Law schools could pay less." [emphasis added]
 
No, I'm sorry, those open road narratives are worth every penny...! We've been told so. Many times. By LawProfs...heywaitaminute...
 
 
His point was that many professor candidates weren't giving up that much because even in a pool of those with the very best academic records the odds of making partner were long. By the statistics, most law firm associates with law professor level credentials do not make partner. The skill sets and mindsets of teaching and practice are very different, and unblinking desire for the brass ring of partnership is a critical factor. "You have to want it very badly without thinking about whether it is worth having," he said.
 
Blasphemy!
 

I think this trend has systemic costs for the academy as a whole. As schools move to [the white-shoe VAP fellowship prior to faculty-hire] model, it has to reduce the diversity of the candidate pool. Not everyone can move temporarily to a job or take the pay cut for an uncertain future, and those who cannot suffer in comparison to those who can spend two or three years polishing an academic resume. Candidates from wealthier backgrounds thus have an edge.
 
Yep, law grads have been dealing with this very same preftige and social/financial backing disparity problem for decades now, but, funny, No One Cared at the time. Welcome to the world. 
 

While Latourette knows the current big law market better than I ever will, I think there may be some counter examples out there. Latourette also does not profess to speak about other kinds of legal employers, which may be of much more interest to many potential VAPs. I know one Climenko fellow who turned down teaching offers to go as an associate to a top Wall Street firm. I know another case, a veteran lawyer with the proven ability to develop and try big cases, who moved from several years of being a VAP to being a partner with a small firm.
 
Maybe these turned-down VAPs will land on their feet, but the numbers don't look promising. Maybe Partner with a small firm is just-as-good as partner at a BigLaw firm, just like law grads go from wanting to save the dolphins and argue before SCOTUS to accepting work at a PI mill for $35k and no benefits (if they can get the work, of course). Regardless of how it turns out, however, there is one thing I know that we will certainly see - more and more LawProf Butthurt as the Law School situation worsens.

 
http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/10/the-vap-trap.html

54 comments:

  1. It's quite true that law professor salaries are grossly inflated. So are salaries for BigLaw associates. The flooding of the legal market means that large firms could easily get quality candidates for half of what they are currently paying, or even less. If they realize this and act accordingly, attending even HYS will become an untenable decision.

    Combined with Harper's recent piece on law firm mergers, it reinforces the notion that law school is for those who cannot do math. So much of what happens in the profession defies even the most basic economics.

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  2. Those salaries are insane, not to mention obscene. A law school could offer $50k and have applicants lined up around the block—many of them decent applicants.

    Tenure supposedly exists to protect the free expression of controversial ideas but actually serves only to protect law professors from a well-deserved sacking. We could count on the fingers of a half-amputated hand the law professors who express controversial ideas.

    Hit the Open Road, Jack. And don't ya come back no more.

    Old Guy

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    1. Once the profs get tenure, even the flow of scholarshit slows down. And, since most professors teach the same courses with the same (re-edited) texts each year, the prep time for class decreases as the years go by. By the time the prof has been teaching for 15-20 years, they don't need to prepare for class, read or add new texts, or publish anything at all. So, they are left with a 12 hour/week job that pays $200,000.

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  3. Law isn't like STEM or even some liberal arts where there is lots of useful scholarship going on. Legal scholarship needs a few dozen academics at top schools for SCOTUS / Fed developments and a few people per state for state law developments - and often, articles written by practicing attorneys fill this role much better than an ivory tower law prof can. 95% of law professors produce no scholarship of value. Even the majority of learning in 1L classes is self teaching through casebooks.

    There is an interesting divergence that I'd like to mention, though: legal writing profs tend to put in a lot more work than is typical and actually teach a skill that every lawyer should be proficient at.

    In any event, in a perfect world every class after 1L year would be taught by a practicing attorney adjunct. Advanced torts? How about a successful local Plaintiff's lawyer. Insurance? Local insurance defense attorney. Criminal Procedure? Experienced DA or Public Defender. The students (and the school's financial health) would all be better off.

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    1. No legal hackademic is going to trouble her satin-clad ass over recent developments in the law of Mississippi. Oh, no! That's for the little people to do. Daddy didn't spend a fortune on boarding schools and cotillions for me to dirty my lily-white hands with practice. The horror! No, if I write anything at all (and why should I, with so much shopping to do, so many trips to plan?), it will be something pretentious and faux-intellectual, such as "The Post-Modernist Sturm und Drang of Neo-Rawlsian Hip-Hop on the Open Road".

      Back down to earth, you're right about those who teach legal writing. Not surprisingly, many of them lack the tenure, money, and perqs that go to mesdames and messieurs who don't do shit.

      Old Guy

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    2. Legal writing teachers do put in a lot of time, but at many schools they constitute a resentful underclass. They can hardly wait to hand out C's to the best students in class. They typically claim a paper is poorly written if it doesn't slavishly conform to their random opinions.

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    3. I definitely agree with that. Legal writing professors, in my experience, obsess over format and citation while not spending much time on clarity and persuasion. Like so much in law school, too, legal writing education focuses on something that almost no practicing attorneys do - in this case, appellate brief writing.

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  4. There's an interesting comment on the Faculty Lounge by "anon212" -

    "if full professors were making 75K instead of 150K, the response wouldn't be to quit and try to get a job as a partner at a law firm, but to try to get paying part-time gigs within the scope of the professors' expertise"

    Well I'd say good luck to them - working as a consultant would probably be a better use of their time than writing scholarship. And how many law professors are actually going to convince anyone to give them cushy part-time $75k a year consulting gigs anyhow? That seems pretty delusional to me.

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    1. The only thing that law profs are *occasionally* good for in private practice is as expert witnesses. Of course, to get that kind of work, you have to be an expert in an area where litigators need help, such as legal ethics in a malpractice action. And it's not like there's a ton of work out there.

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    2. I read anon212's comment this morning and had a somewhat different reaction. I have no idea how common this is, but many of my profs had consultant gigs with industry and government.

      Occasionally one would let slip a comment in private or small group conversation that tended to indicate these were fairly lucrative (one referred to his LS salary as "almost covering the taxes" on his consultant work - likely exaggerating boasting, but still....).

      And of course, there were many other profs in my school than those I had relatively close access to - they may have done diddly outside of academia.

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    3. ITOT it would also depend I suppose on what rank law school this was and how long ago. I find it hard to believe that the majority of law professors, from non-elite schools, would find it easy to get these consultancy jobs now. Considering how sharply job opportunities for lawyers, both private and government, have contracted over the past few years.

      But anon212 seemed to be saying "You wouldn't dare lower law professor salaries to the same as that of other liberal art graduate professors. They would all just get consulting jobs to make up the difference."

      And the reasonable response is "who would this hurt if they had to do this? And would they even be able to get those jobs anyhow?"

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    4. "Of course, to get that kind of work [expert witness], you have to be an expert in an area where litigators need help, such as legal ethics in a malpractice action."

      No you don't. Real lawyers don't respect law professor "knowledge". Litigators (or their associates or paralegals) can look up the law as well as any law professor. The expert witness professor's job is to impress the jury with his fancy credentials. The litigators supervise (or outright write) the expert's FRCP 26(2)B report themselves.

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  5. I've an earnest question. If a professor teaches at a typical state school---the kind of school where 75% of its graduates remain in that state to practice---should that professor, particularly as a condition of tenure, pass the bar exam of the state of said law school? If you think not, why not?

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    1. Tricia - a good idea. Actually pass the exam (side note, my autocorrect replaced misspelling of 'exam' with 'scam'), not just waive in. Should also be required to maintain their active license, not some BS "professor" status that allows for zero CLE requirements etc. I'd also advocate for a pro bono requirement - 50 hours per year?

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    2. While I'm sympathetic to the notion, after consideration I disagree with Charles. Being barred in the venue is a license to practice law. Teaching is not the practice. (Enough so, that we have jokes about "those who can't, teach" and the like in other contexts.)

      In any event, I don't see it as necessary for a law prof.

      Now, take another step - if same prof is being paid $15K each bar prep season to give the local BarBri lectures on (select local bar requirement - property, torts, etc.) then I can see an argument that a prof sitting in Knoxville (to pick a non-random city) should be barred in TN if s/he's giving the TN bar-prep lectures.

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    3. (editing to add - on re-reading my comment I see my thinking that those teaching local bar classes should be barred, is not logically aligned with the idea that law profs need not be barred. Bummer - I still feel this way, but I'm not sure I can defend it.)

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    4. Not necessary for a law prof?

      It should be a mandatory requirement - their students HAVE to pass the bar in order to practice so the least they can expect is that their teachers have already passed it.

      And CLE should of course be required for law profs - but no fancy trips paid for with non-dischargable loan proceeds.

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    5. ITOT, I see where you're coming from. Those who teach bar classes are (or should be) teaching the actual useful law which attorneys use in practice, so should be held at least to the bare minimum standard of competence for practicing law. Bar membership is a reasonable means to achieve this standard (although not perfect.)

      Law school is different. It teaches far more broadly than the relatively narrow practical law needed to work as a lawyer. (Whether this is right or wrong is not the point here, although I lean towards the "If you're charging $50K per year for a JD, you'd better make sure you cover the basics of being a real life lawyer before you start teaching 'Law and the Open Road' and similar fluff" side of things.) So I'll gladly accept that law professors don't necessarily need to be members of the bar in the state in which they teach (or any bar, for that matter), because they aren't necessarily teaching the practical application of law.

      But then, what level of competence should they be held to? If they are not lawyers, then teachers? How about requiring a PhD, like just about every other professor position in the world?

      I don't think law professors can have it both ways. If they teach law, then become members of the state bar and show us they aren't incompetent lawyers. If they just teach at the college level, then earn PhDs and show us that they aren't incompetent teachers and researchers.

      We don't allow high school grads to teach high school. Few would accept college-level teaching from those without extensive postgrad education. Yet we allow JD grads to teach JD students without the requirement for post-JD education or experience? The blind leading the blind.

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    6. Well, "Juris Doctor" means 'teacher of law'… Of course, law skule has slipped so low that a JD no longer guarantees even a layman's knowledge of law, let alone the competence to teach the subject.

      Many professors of "law" have no legal training of any kind. An arrogant buffoon hired by my law school didn't know the difference between assault and battery—something that I had looked up in an ordinary dictionary back in high school. Needless to say, this non-jurist was hired as a Philosopher™.

      Old Guy

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    7. Mr. Cooper:

      I think you are spot on. Thank you all for taking my question seriously. Excellent comments, as usual.

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    8. That's a very good analysis, Cooper. You wouldn't happen to be a practicing lawyer, would you?

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  6. Given his massive expertise on defamation and his deeply penetrating analysis of intended meanings, Brian Leiter could easily make a fortune suing philosophy professors part-time. That is, if he could just avoid those anti-intellectual state judges who aren't impressed with his well-endowed chair of law, philosophy, and human values.

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  7. Thank you for posting this! What Latourette said is something we've all known instinctively, but it's great to see it confirmed by someone who would know.

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  8. "extend an invitation to Ray Campbell to just come on over and join OTLSS"

    Prohibitive commute.

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  9. I don't think law professors are overpaid as much as underworked. Suppose a law professor makes 200K. He or she teaches 5 classes with an average of 50 students. Net tuition is 8K a year. So this law professor generates 400K per year with half as overhead to the university. In reality law professors.dont have this workload.

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    1. With perhaps a very few exceptions, though, students don't chose law schools based on who the professors are.They aren't "generating" income.

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    2. The large first year classes could easily be taught as MOOCs for a few dollars and should be.

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  10. The professors could just move to Nebraska and rake in the $$$.

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    1. LOL. That's brilliant!

      Get out there and fill those unmet needs, eggheads!

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  11. If ex-VAPs and ex-lawprofs complain about being rejected for lawyer jobs, we should smile encouragingly and tell them about the category of Ex-Law Professor Advantage jobs. We should tell them that their status as ex-Law Professors is a "highly valued credential" as they launch lucrative second careers as nonprofit managers, political campaign consultants, K-12 teachers, and corporate CEOs.

    http://work.chron.com/jobs-can-jd-9798.html

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    1. I'm sure if we looked hard enough, we could find an ex-law prof who's the owner of a professional or semi-professional sports team.

      If you haven't checked Ladies Rollerball Leagues yet, you haven't delved deeply enough.

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    2. My version:

      If ex-VAPs and ex-lawprofs complain about being rejected for lawyer jobs, we should smile encouragingly ... and suggest they assume $300,000 in non-dischargable student loans that some poor lemming borrowed to pay their ex-salary.

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    3. Rejected for lawyer jobs? What?! I thought that the white-shoe law firms were holding sable-carpeted corner offices vacant in the hopes of bagging Pond Scum and the Queen of the Open Road. How could these worthies possibly be turned down?

      Old Guy

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    4. LOL Tricia. They should do some unpaid internships, too.

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  12. I have learned from Gilbert and Sullivan that Monarch of the Sea is a JD advantage job. Maybe laid off law professors can seek jobs as admirals in Commonwealth countries.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iZ-gfalEWI0

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    1. "And I polished up the ...."

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  13. Fellas and Ladies,
    I just want to say this is starting to get fun! I got scammed from '05-08 and I'm still reckoning with the consequences. I've been fighting the fight against these scumbag lawdeans and profs (and all their apologists) for 6 years now and it's nice to finally see some karma being dished out.
    I won't be done fighting, possibly ever, but it's going to be especially nice seeing the former purveyors of the scam hustling on the streets. Let's continue to grind their filthy noses into the dirt.
    Signed,
    C-k Toileteer first class.

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    1. Sorry you got scammed, but we all make mistakes. Keep up the good fight!

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    2. I'm curious why you guys are so mad at law professors, who for the most part do their research and teach their classes with distinction. Nor is the legal curriculum the reason jobs are scarce. It would, in my view, as a practicing attorney, seem more productive to direct your anger at the big law partners who command enormous salaries, work associates unnecessarily hard and, because of these two factors, refuse to hire more attorneys and thus increase employment among recent grads. No one needs or deserves to make $300,000 or more. They could share the wealth and directly help this situation. So why the anger at law profs?

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    3. Good Lord, @6:58. Spend your next vacation in Cuba or North Korea and see how your mindset is working out there. Double the number of biglaw associates and you would hardly make a dent in the fact that there are no jobs for half of the people graduating from law school today.

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    4. It's very interesting to me, Anon7:27, that in this respect you're so conservative. After all, law professors make chump change compared to big law partners. And more importantly, they are not the cause of the problem that concerns many of us; those who have the power to provide jobs yet fail to do so are, of course. Yet when it comes to demanding that big law partners make less and direct some of their excess wealth to newly-minted lawyers without jobs, you shy away and say that's communistic.

      I think this misdirected anger matters not just because the so-called "job creators" are failing at doing just that, in law and the rest of society, but also because it seems to me that you're buying into some of the nonsense law firms peddle about law associates needing to be ready to practice on day one. I don't think law schools have an obligation to do what big law partners want. Indeed, I think legal education needs to be partly-theoretical, or at least big picture oriented, rather than purely practical, to ready lawyers for the tough decision they'll have to make in year 15 of practice, when ways of doing things have inevitably changed radically. What you have to do in year one as a lawyer can easily be taught on the job; there is no reason for legal education merely to subsidize law firm training programs, or for firms big and small not to invest heavily in such training. Indeed, law schools should be inculcating in students what you might call "resistance norms" -- ways of challenging what established lawyers and especially powerful partners do and expect unthinkingly, in order to better the legal profession and steer it away from the currently-awful ways that tend to dominate firm practice.

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    5. So how about we persuade some biglaw partners to hire twice as many new lawyers, but at half the salary? No one could call that communistic either, could they? And there would be fewer surplus lawyers.

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    6. There's a big difference between biglaw partner salaries and lawprof salaries.

      The former is earned via paying clients with the means to pay these big law firms and paying it out of the revenues of the firm. (And even they are starting to push back on these enormous fees.)

      The latter however is "earned" via naive 20-somethings who are merely conduits of federal/tax-payer backed student loans and whose life is ruined by the debt and lack of jobs.

      Its not so much how much they make in salary but also how they make it. If lawprofs made the same amount of money they do now but all of it came from fleecing rich families with money to burn only then would the two be comparable.

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    7. I think you're letting big law partners off too easily. They are beneficiaries of luck -- the economy into which they graduated, especially, plus whatever they had going that their predecessors happened to like (things which, let's face it, are totally arbitrary). They are not entitled to nearly what they earn, and new law graduates are entitled to some of it, if only to even out the arbitrariness of luck. The market economy, in all its arbitrariness, is a problem, and I think you should focus heavily on its injustices rather than valorize it or even just accept it as baseline/given. Those who have benefited from it owe you, big time. State legislatures, too, for raising tuition and cutting government subsidies, are culpable. So too is Congress, for making student loan debt nonchargeable. That's an outrage. Law schools for going along with U.S. News, deserve significant blame. But I'm having trouble seeing where law professors, with their relatively modest salaries, fit in here. There are a lot of claims that blame their teaching -- specifically, that they don't provide the "practical" education that law firms want -- that strikes me as misguided because it valorizes and reinforces acceptance of the existing legal market, which should instead be challenged and disrupted.

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    8. The reason tuition is so sky high is because law professors do NOT make "modest" salaries. The bulk of that tuition money is going into the pockets of law profs and even more of it goes to law school "administration". So let's get real here!

      The fact of that matter is that law school costs too much relative to the risk and expected outcomes. Law school costs too much and there are not anywhere near enough jobs that pay enough to make the cost justified. That's the bottom line!

      Its a joke to suggest that if biglaw simply hired 2x the number of people at half the pay that it would solve the problem. There are two issues here.

      1 The only people that actually MIGHT be able to "worth it" are those who get those biglaw salaries! If biglaw salaries were halved, then going to law school at current prices become not worth it EVEN FOR THOSE WHO GET BIGLAW! Get that?

      2 Biglaw itself represents only a small percentage of all bar required jobs. Doubling that would not create enough jobs.


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    9. The anger at law profs is because many law profs are actively part of the scam. There are exceptions like Tamanaha, Campos, Merritt, etc but most law profs either actively promote the scam, like Ben Barros constantly saying that people are "exaggerating" the risk of law school or at best just silently collect their paychecks with full knowledge that they are making it on the backs of their students who are saddled with massive, life-altering debt and taxpayers who ultimately foot the bill for

      Again its not how much you make but how you make it. People don't generally complain that med school being a scam or med profs making too much even though they make far more than lawprofs.


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    10. But, you see, how much you make on an absolute level does matter, a lot. Are partners, who are most able to bear the brunt of the recession, taking the bulk of the financial hit? What about each bar association imposing a 10% "tax" on partner profits over $300,000, or a gross receipts tax on law firms with high profits per partner, or something of that nature. That would generate a lot of money, that could be used to expand legal services -- you know, to the real people in this country that actually need legal services, as opposed to the corporations that now consume disproportionate amounts of legal services. That way, there would be a lot of room to employ lawyers who really need the work. There are a lot of solutions such as these available, if we think creatively (and re-distributively). The very wealthy in our profession must contribute their fair share, rather than hanging on to too much of their arbitrarily-earned gains. It matters how much you make. Too much is too much, especially when you earn it on the backs of hard-working associates, and the only thing you do is use your so-called book of business -- which can hardly be classified as a valuable legal skill.

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    11. @ Anon6:58

      You're still ignoring or hand-waving away the basic issue. There are too many law schools, that graduate too many students, with too much debt relative to the number of jobs and the pay of said jobs. And this is all fueled by federally guaranteed student loans made to anyone and everyone attending any school regardless of how well or poorly graduates of said school performs.

      Your plan seems to be that we could solve it by taxing partners and using that tax money to create legal-aid type jobs to serve the needy. Even if this could be done (and I really doubt you will EVER get something like this passed), I'm not sure it would create enough jobs with enough pay to absorb all the JD graduates and make their debt burden worthwhile. I'm pretty sure all these make-work jobs would still not pay enough to make $250k debt to attend law school worthwhile!

      What needs to happen is for a ton of law schools to close and the remaining ones to slash tuition. The federal govt could make this happen very simply by tying their future lending to a school to the REAL default rate of its alumni. By REAL default rate, I mean also taking into account programs like PAYE which are really partial loan defaults since such alumni will only ever pay a tiny portion of their total debt.

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    12. I agree, Anonymous, that tuition is too high. State schools, especially, should, as they once did, cost a lot less. I do blame state legislatures for dropping funding for public law schools, and those law schools for essentially privatizing. And I think that nondischargeable student debt is morally outrageous.

      But we also have to think about the clients we exist to serve -- particularly the massive unmet need for legal services in this country. We must tie a solution to that problem to the problem of law graduates being unemployed. Given the surplus wealth hovering around big law firms, that seems like a nice place to start. Law is a public-serving profession, and that ideal must be the centerpiece of all reform efforts.

      And as I've said, it's important that we not conflate the economic problems of legal education with issues of curricular reform. It is a mistake to demand that legal curricula be more "practical" and geared to serve the existing needs of legal employers. Legal curricula need to serve the ends of our legal profession -- justice and equality. They should not be designed to be practical, in the sense of preparing students for what existing employers want on day one. That's an unfair subsidy of private enterprise. They should instead be designed to enable law students to think deeply about problems likely to come up in 15 years, as leaders of the profession. So instead of learning the ins and outs of day-to-day discovery -- something that one can learn on the job -- students should learn how to think deeply about the strengths and weaknesses of the civil litigation system as it is constituted, because they will eventually be leaders of the bar charged with keeping or changing the system, and practice doesn't offer sufficient time to delve into such matters. Knowledge of economics is also essential in our regulatory world. So too the social sciences. "In This, the Winter of Our Discontent: Legal Practice, Legal Education, and the Culture of Distrust" by Alfred Konefsky and Barry Sullivan, in the Buffalo Law Review this year, makes the point nicely and, to my mind, is irrefutable. It's summarized at:
      http://chronicle.com/article/Theres-More-to-the-Law-Than/129493/

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  14. I find it richly comical that lawyers leave their jobs to become VAPs, and then find themselves stuck with extra academic credentials that no one cares about enough to hire them. That's exactly what they wanted to happen to their future students. But it's all good, since lawyers of all people should be informed consumers and it's their own fault!

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  15. And as many have said, they undoubtedly return to lucrative private practice, due to their law professor skills, or perhaps take one of the many and very nice VAP-advantage jobs.

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  16. And Ray Campbell closed the comments after insulting me (he had made the same old same old law prof argument, and I had told him to actually read the comments, where it had been refuted again and again and again.........). Quite classy of him

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    1. Many law profs, perhaps most, are cowards. They would run in tears from an actual courtroom, fearful of having to expose their delusions and ignorance to an opponent with real-world experience. Instead, they prove their dubious manhood (or their feminist purity) by bullying students or threatening lawsuits they could never begin to understand. Some have even committed the huge, financially reckless, and potentially career-ending tort of making such threats without being licensed to practice law.

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