Tuesday, June 24, 2014

A Former Law Professor Speaks Out on the Majesty of the Socratic Method

One long-running debate that is central to the notion of the Law School Scam is whether or not law school instruction serves its students well and is worth the significant time and cost investment.  For years, the answer from the Establishment was a resounding "Yes, of course it does," if for no other reason than no one dared question it - peer pressure exists, even in the rational, hallowed halls of academia.  Those who did question the system were generally JD graduates in the loser's bracket of the law school sorting mechanism, and shame was allowed to do its dirty work and silence the critics instead of fostering real debate.
The times, they are a'changin.'  It is my opinion that Carthage must be footnoted's comment in MA's prior post deserved its own post.  Without further ado:
I’m a former law professor, and I have a slightly different take on this then Orin [Kerr].

When I was in law school, I would have disagreed with this post 100%. Law school can teach a handful of particular, distinct skills. The main skill it teaches is how to write a law school exam—which is a skill that has cognates in writing bench memos for judges/appellate briefs.

The questions that I didn’t ask until I was a law professor:

1. Does the Socratic method do a good job of teaching the above skills?
2. Are those the most useful skills for our students to learn?

Many law professors cannot answer those questions from an unbiased position because one side of the answers, if true, would be hard on their egos.

The Socratic method must do a good job of teaching those skills, law professors tell themselves, because we are invested in the myth of our own success. The system that produced us must be good. Maybe not perfect—maybe in need of some alteration—but generally good. Law professors are theory-heavy and practice-light. If the answer is “no, this skill is not useful,” then we have a huge problem, because law profs—and our colleagues—are fundamentally not equipped to teach any other skill.

And so we avoid the truth.

The Socratic method is a shitty method of teaching. As a law student, I could see only my own success. I did awesomely in law school, so of course the Socratic method appeared to work. As a law professor, when I graded exams, it became clear that a large percentage of my students weren’t learning the skills that I had tried to teach them, and when I talked to my colleagues, I was told that this was just the way things were, that the students who failed were dumb/lazy/slow to get it.

But I knew my students, and while I’m sure some were dumb/lazy (inevitable in any large class) I didn’t buy that most of them were. And I’ve learned a number of different skills in my life over a variety of disciplines, and I know how good students generally are at learning skills that are well taught.

Thinking like a law professor isn’t hard; we are just incredibly shitty at teaching it.

(The second problem is that we use the Socratic method to teach two things at once: both the substance of the law and this ineffable “thinking like a law professor” skill. When both are opaque, it’s sort of like blindfolding your students, handing them legos dipped in goo, and asking them to construct a railroad depot, with the added caveat that you do not, in fact, want a railroad depot; you really want a museum of trains, something that only looks like a railroad depot from a distance. The fact that some students manage to produce the appropriate museum is no reason to pat ourselves on the backs.)

As for the second question, it became quickly obvious to me that most of my students would not, in fact, ever need to think like a law professor—that if I wanted to help them succeed, I needed to give them projects and tasks that mimicked the sort of things they would actually be doing in practice even though I taught nonclinical classes.

But I know fuck-all about practice, and while people all around me told me it didn’t matter, it soon became apparent to me that this was a self-serving myth created by the practice-light environment of academia. In what actual world would a total lack of experience and knowledge ever be irrelevant?

I was not comfortable saying, “Oh, well, I just made this shitty exercise up, and I know as much as you about how you’d approach this problem in real life, so snap to it, and I’ll grade you based on what I think the right answer is. But I could be completely wrong, and also, do practitioners approach this problem like this? IDEK.”

In any event, TL;DR: Law school teaches low value skills badly, and law professors are by and large too invested in their own success to cop to this.
Straight up, Carthage, and I hope we see you around here again in the future.  These ideas would have been considered heretical a scant few years ago, when the Law School machine was running full tilt with models and bottles.  Clearly, when a system produces "successful" results, it is clearly because the system was inherently a good system, not due to other outside contributing factors that are difficult to quantify.  Nope, it was nothing but sheer LawProf awesomeness, full stop.
Until the music stopped playing, of course, and the number of seats grew fewer than the number of players and the cost per seat rose out of control.  It took decades to see, but now we are all living the results now that they can no longer be swept under the rug.  Kind of like the Great Recession.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

If You're Going To Law School, Do It Right

The Socratic method is the method used by sage law professors to tease the law's nuances out of the minds of their brilliant pupils. In practice, it leads to lazy law professors with little real world experience calling on whichever gunner feels like talking that day. Law school is very different from most educational experiences. Professors enjoy actively hiding the ball from students. The classes consist of meandering discussions that often have no real point and leave students even more confused than before. Casebooks contain cases that take 20 pages to make a point that could be made in a paragraph. The legal education as hazing ritual model was bad when it began and only persists because the law school educational complex makes so much money selling materials to help explain casebooks and simple points of law to students. 

Taking a bar review course further illustrates how broken the legal education model is. It is only after law school is complete that someone finally thinks to provide materials (at a cost, of course) that explain the law in easy to understand terms. It is at this point that most people see that the law isn't really all that complicated. Why not teach the law in a practical way that encourages students to understand it more definitely while in law school? It's time to flip the script.

If you choose to go to law school in spite of all the warnings presented on this site, then make it as easy as possible for yourself. Go on eBay or Craigslist and look for bar review materials. When I went to law school, BarBri gave out a "First Year's Guide" that was only slightly less oblique than the case books. Forget this piece of garbage. Get the materials that BarBri provides for actual bar review. You can buy them from a sad, jobless law grad who needs the money to make her loan payment. You can try to read the case books and brief cases to help you learn to "think like a lawyer" for the first week or so. After that, do only the reading you need to be prepared for when you will be called upon in class. Use the bar review books to learn the concepts that your law professor refuses to teach you in an efficient way. You will have a lot less stress than the others in your class who want to do things the traditional, stupid way.

Law school is not just a waste of time because of the massive educational debt you incur. It also doesn't really teach students much of anything after their core curriculum classes are complete. Classes are barely tolerated by professors who would rather be working even less than they do now and serve only to obfuscate fairly elementary points that can be picked up with relative ease if presented the right way. Let me give you an example from personal experience. In law school, I was entirely unable to grasp anything about secured transactions. My professor was a nice enough guy, but the classes would have been more comprehensible if he had taught us in a foreign language. Needless to say, I did not do well on the final. When it came time to study for the bar, I read through the section through twice. It made perfect sense when presented in an easy to understand way. I was able to sum up the entire subject on two pages, front and back. The state I took the bar in gave us a breakdown of our scores, and I blew the secured transactions questions out of the water.

It is common knowledge that one's future employment prospects rest largely on 1L first semester grades. Good grades will help you secure a summer associate position after your 1L year, which will help secure a job after your 2L year, which will usually lead to a permanent job offer. If Biglaw is your goal, then this point is even more acute. You must do well straight out of the gate or the profession will leave you behind. It is not up to you to play the law school game fairly or according to tradition. It is up to you to get a job that pays enough so that you might undo this huge financial mistake before your children go to college. Better yet, stay away from law school in the first place.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

There, I fixed it

Indiana Tech Law School is advertising for a new dean.  Their ad is riddled with errors though, so I took the liberty of correcting it for them:

Indiana Tech is searching for a new dean receiver for the law school its bankrupt vanity project, located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is a short-term temporary position.  The ideal candidate unfortunate soul will have substantial experience in legal education and the legal profession sales (used car preferably, snake oil strongly preferred); possess a vision a weak spine and a delusion for an Indiana Tech Law School that differentiates itself by preparing law students for effective and rewarding careers through providing theoretical training infused with experiential exercises and real-life exposure to lawyers, judges and collaborative opportunities will be, in reality, no more than a feeble replica of every other law school in the United States if it hasn't closed by this time next year. Responsibilities of the dean include developing a sound and innovative curriculum using the same tired curriculum as everywhere else, recruiting duping students simpletons, faculty has-been (or never-were) professors, professional cast-offs, and retirement double-dippers, and staff assorted spongers who add zero value, monitoring and continuously improving performance profits, and creating an atmosphere conducive to the illusion of outstanding teaching and learning. The dean will also be responsible for developing and maintaining law school relationships with begging for handouts (including more "art") from the legal profession, legal education and state and local communities; and misleading the school to provisional and full approval by the American Bar Association in the minimum time required by the Standards for Approval of Law Schools. The dean is expected to be a creative an unimaginative and condestructive team builder narcissist working effectively across to funnel law school profits to all campus departments and into the pockets of faculty and staff via grossly-inflated, unjustifiable compensation packages. The dean will report to be subject to the whims of the President of the university and be a member puppet of the President's Cabinet.
Why on earth any legitimate law professor or school administrator (and I use the term "legitimate" very, very loosely indeed) would seek this job is beyond me.  It is without a doubt a career-killer and a reputation-destroyer.  This school will fail; I don't understand why anyone would risk being the one left holding the bag when the doors finally close.

At best, one would expect applications from a handful of non-accredited California law school deans who are looking to move "up" the ladder, or insiders - andre? - who have already tossed away their academic credibility and have nothing else to lose.

Or I suppose it would be attractive to anyone who cares for nothing except a bigger paycheck no matter what the harm caused to others in the process.  I guess that would include the majority of law professors at schools outside the top ten, most of whom know full well they are nothing more than Pied Pipers leading children to lives of debt and depression, most of whom have already silently acquiesced to the existence of this horrendous new establishment, and many of whom could well be dusting off their resumes at this very moment.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Declining Applicants and Declining Standards

Hello Friends, sorry I have not been as active a contributor in the last two months as I have been previously, as work in particular has been heating up and cutting into my scambloggery (Yes, skeptics, many scambloggers are fortunate to have actual work and careers, such as they are).
Many others, including yours truly, have lambasted the ABA for their tone-deaf, self-serving attitude and utter disregard of the "working people" in the legal profession.  Yes, if you are a LawProf or ScamDean with friends in high places, or are a fourth-generation progeny of BigLaw, then the ABA certainly has your interests at heart, as the chairpersons, officers and directors of the ABA generally come from the same pool.  All you lower castes, move along.
Clearly their ears have been burning, because in an attempt to "level the playing field," lol skewls will apparently be allowed to admit up to 10% of their class without an LSAT score.
Why, you may ask?  Why remove the burden of a gate-keeping exam, the LSAT, one that was originally intended in decades past to keep the great, unwashed masses out only admit the best, most qualified applicants?  Have our Promethean Betters had a change of heart?  Do they have another plan for how to best apply legal education in a new century?  Instead of an outdated, meaningless exam, perhaps the ABA wants to try a new methodology to control the flow of applicants into the nation's law schools?  What possible pressure could lead the ABA to adopt such a clear reversal of decades of  prior policy?
Look no further than right here:
Oops.  Applicants are down 7.8% over last year, and prior years saw even more precipitous drops.   Just like the Fed running the printing press in order to juice the system with more cash, the ABA is trying to juice the faltering legal profession and law schools by removing any semblance of standards.  Like a NINA loan during the subprime crisis, you don't need "income" or "assets"...just a pulse.
Which could be fine, maybe, in some universe, if (1) there was an extreme shortage of lawyers, (2) tuition was reasonable, and (3) if a test like the LSAT was keeping qualified people out of the profession by arbitrary and capricious standards.  Last time we all looked, it was nope, nope, and.....nope...well, mostly nope, because some of those logic puzzles can be gamed and are dumb, frankly, and don't really indicate anything.  Just ask Kaplan.
As applications continue to drop, and the ScamDeans head for the hills and the LawProfs sweat, watch for an "open enrollment" policy.  Because nothing says "ethics" and "professionalism" than duping people into going to law school who have no business being there, not necessarily due to drive, passion or smarts, but due to lack of experience with the game.  This is all about the Benjamins, remember that. 
Law Schools have been overproducing law grads to available jobs for decades, so why stop now?  The solution to declining applications is to throw open the flood gates.  Put a little more fodder onto the fire, as these sweet no-work salaries with benefits do not grow on trees. 
The upper echelons demand and expect nothing less, and it is apparently your job, 0Ls, to make their self-serving dreams come true.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Strict Scrutiny: Erwin Chemerinsky Lays Out UC Irvine's Origin Story

It's been a while since I've done an FJM. In the interest of clarity though, I'm going to start calling these Strict Scrutiny. It rolls off the tongue a bit better and will make more sense to people who aren't Ken Tremendous fans. TaxProf Blog recently ran an excerpt from an article Erwin Chemerinsky wrote in the DePaul Journal of Social Justice as part of his ongoing effort to justify UC Irvine Law School's continued existence. This vanity project continues to take money from student loans and lines Erwin and his wife's pockets. But wait! Erwin is back to talking about how the school is emphasizing "public interest law". Erwin's words are in italics and offset, mine in regular text.
In 2007, I accepted the position to be the founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law. I decided from the outset to create a law school with a strong emphasis on public service. The Chancellor, Michael Drake, and the Provost, Michael Gottfredson, who hired me agreed to the importance of this. But this, of course, was not the only objective. Several other goals also affected what we could do.
Yes, like making money, burnishing his "legacy", and creating job opportunities for people like Carrie Menkel-Meadow. Together, they will do for law school what Korea did for pop music.
First, the primary goal articulated by Chancellor Drake and Provost Gottfredson was to create a law school that would be ranked in the top 20, by every measure, from the outset. They were terrific in providing the resources to allow us to pursue being a top 20 law school, but this required that our primary criteria in admission be focused on LSAT and GPA numbers. These are a substantial part of every law school's ranking. Commitment to public service, of course, could be a plus in admissions decisions, especially among those with the requisite grades and test scores. But ultimately our admissions decisions would not be very different from other schools that wish to be in the top 20.

Erwin insists that he is changing the game while still measuring success by metrics that exist in a zombie magazine that has no reason to exist besides telling students where they should be spending those easy to come by loan dollars. How about actually innovating instead of just pretending?
Second, we needed to cultivate close relationships with the large law firms in our area. I spent a great deal of time thinking about how to attract terrific students to a brand new law school. The law school hired 10 founding faculty, all stars from top 20 law schools, to arrive a year before the students. My hope was that this would send a message to prospective students of the quality of the new school. 

Erwin isn't telling us how these professors fit in with his vision to develop a law school specializing in public interest law. A clear plan to implement this vision is more important than recruiting “stars” for his faculty. His obsession with “star” faculty is like a young kid who claims he loves a shoe simply because of its name brand.
We obtained commitments from 75 *4 employers - law firms, government offices and public interest organizations - that they would come and interview our students. This was to communicate to students that they would have job opportunities if they came. My best idea, though, was to offer a full scholarship for all three years of law school to every student in the inaugural class. This received national publicity, and we received about 2,800 applications for the 60 slots and had students turn down many top schools to come. The scholarship money came largely from large law firms in the area. Their incentive was to bring great students to Orange County with the hope they would stay and come to work at their firms. And, of course, we wanted to do all we could to help our students who wanted to go to large firms pursue this.
So after all that deep thought (during time for which he was paid, I'm sure), the best ideas Erwin came up with: get employers to promise to participate in OCI and let the first class attend for free. With the legal field rapidly shrinking, I don't see how simply getting firms to promise to participate in OCI is such a momentous triumph. I know of many people who will sit through time share presentations with no intention of buying simply to get a free trip. How long until these promises are recanted? Or perhaps firms can send the associates at the bottom of the barrel and turn OCI into a glorified mock interview process. I'm sure that the career center will work tirelessly to get jobs for this first class of students, and then fall off as more dopes are reeled in by Erwin's pitch. It all sounds like the lifecycle of the law professor pre and post tenure, doesn't it?
Third, once the founding faculty arrived, major decisions about the school were made by them and then by the faculty who were subsequently hired. There was no assurance that they would share my vision of the school, especially with regard to an emphasis on public service. We were hiring a founding faculty that would make us a top 20 law school; their views on public interest law really did not play a role in the hiring process.
So, in an article about how Erwin created a law school that emphasizes public interest law, he admits that he had no interest in prospective professors' views on public interest law. Erwin tips his hand here. He is only interested in building a cash machine that will redistribute Federal student loans to himself and UC Irvine.
Within these constraints, though, there was a great deal of opportunity to create a law school that put more of an emphasis on public interest law. This essay is a description of some of the things we have done in this regard.
The last sentence is the type of lukewarm statement that indicates that Erwin doesn't have any particular interest in advancing his alleged mission beyond paying it lip service. Erwin, there are ways to measure outcomes. It's called doing a job survey of your graduates.
It is too soon to know whether we have succeeded in producing law students who will pursue public interest careers. We have had only two graduating classes and a significant number of students are doing judicial clerkships. We have some students working full-time in public interest, some in government and many at law firms. We have a large number of students doing public interest work during the summers and doing pro bono work during the school year. We will need more time before assessing whether what we have done makes any difference. I know there is more that we can do. 
At this point, Erwin's lost the thread. He admits that he has no idea if his first class will pursue public interest law. Isn't that what he opened this law school to do? Again, the absence of innovative thought is very evident here. Erwin's law school has simply produced graduates who have the same kinds of outcomes most law schools' graduates have.
This essay describes what we have done in terms of our curricular decisions, our financial assistance, our pro bono program and *5 our career services office. These are not all of the components for designing a law school oriented towards public interest law, but they are certainly crucial aspects of doing this.
Admittedly, I was unable to read the full article. Maybe Erwin articulated a truly innovative vision in the rest of the article. But I suspect he didn't. All this essay seems to have are platitudes that don't really mean anything. The prestige chasing and emphasis in building that prestige quickly is ultimately designed to create the most efficient system possible to put a spigot in the student loan barrel. The false prestige Erwin wants to quickly create is only to entice students to come and spend entirely too much money for an education that has been proven to be largely worthless in today's job market. Erwin, just admit you're in this because you want to live in the sunshine and maybe buy a Ferrari. That would at least make respect you.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Battle of Law ScamDeans

L4L / Skadden Farts leads the charge against the ScamDeans, before being cut down by the initial fusillade, circa 2010.

(with apologies to Johnny Horton, "The Battle of New Orleans")

Well, The Calico Cat tried to tell us all the truth,
And the lemmings said that JDJive was totally uncouth,
Scotty Bullock preached anon about Big Debt and Small Law,
And Nando posted pictures of the TTTiolets on his wall.

            And the Scamblogs blogged 'cause they felt it was a calling,
            There weren't as many lemmings as there was awhile ago,
            The Scamblogs jeered as the Cartel found it galling,
            From the T13 to the Law Schools down below.

Well, the Valvoline Dean raised tuition with a smirk,
And Joan King told sad grads to go "network,"
Leiter said that law school was cool but yet he lied,
While Tamanaha and Campos were thoroughly decried.


But then they fired a bunch of Profs to try to keep expenses down,
Then they hired a lot of adjuncts 'cause they thought that would be sound,
They filled the class with 1Ls from where ever they could find,
But applications still declined and the ScamDeans lost their minds.


Then Simkovic was talkin' 'bout a "million-buck-degree,"
Ben Barros was convinced that JD jobs would come, just see!
Chemerinsky squeezed UC for every dollar he could goose,
And Illig was relieved his salary was not reduced.


Dean Alexander fled Indy Tech through the alley door,
And Infilaw was sad to see their profits didn't soar,
The rats began to jump from every sinking yacht,
And the scambloggers cheered "Now, who is getting mocked?"



The battle continues! Fight the good fight, stay strong, and run the race with endurance! The truth is on our side.