Law in Contemporary Society
I found this account of the law school experience by Professor Duncan Kennedy of Harvard Law to be relevant to our discussions in class, thought I’d share.

-- RohanGrey - 30 Jan 2012

Very interesting article Rohan. Sums up a lot of thoughts that I (and I'm sure others) have about the process thus far. "students do more than accept the way things are, and ideology does more than damp opposition. Students act affirmatively within the channels cut for them... " I feel that a lot of the process is to fear pushing back or questioning why things are the way they are (ie how to view a case, what we should aspire too, and sometimes the way students are treated). A positive element @ Columbia (which is different from what the article mentions) is the idea that if you give a knee jerk moral argument about a case you'll be shamed. I think one of the purposes of law school is to stop students from cruching to their knee jerk reactions, but from what I've experienced so far I think as long as your knee jerk reaction can be connected to some legal element/theory professors welcome the comment.

In regards to Moglen's perspective on grades this quote shared similarities, "Grading as practiced teaches the inevitability and also the justice of hierarchy, a hierarchy that is at once false and unnecessary. If law schools invested some of the time and money they now put into Socratic classes in developing systematic skills training, and committed themselves to giving constant, detailed feedback on student progress in learning those skills, they could graduate the vast majority of all the law students in the country at the level of technical proficiency now achieved by a small minority in each institution... this hierarchy is then evident in the legal market."

Interesting to compare Kennedy's idea of schools incapacitating students by giving them training that is useful yet limited in the real world with the often repeated notion that even if a student wants to go into the public interest sector, it'd be better to go to a firm first and get the "right training". With the amount of money that students pay, why can't they get this "right training", right now?

"On one level, all of this is just high school replayed; on another, it’s about how to make partner... The problem is not whether hierarchy is there, but how to understand it, and what its implications are for political action," to this quote I would add that the problem is also to devise a way in which you maintain your sense of who you are.

02 Feb 2012 - AbiolaFasehun

I thought this was an excellent contribution, Abiola, because it took up the reference, helped people understand what key ideas you took away from the thinking referred to, and articulated the new ideas to which those ideas in turn led you.

Your connection between Duncan's idea about how to make law schools produce substantially better lawyers and my own is a shrewd one. I first met Duncan Kennedy nearly 33 years ago, in 1979, the summer before I started law school. We almost never meet now; in the last twelve years I don't believe we've been "in contact." I won't speak for his view of me, but I will say that I believe him to be a profound thinker, a Quixotic politician, and a hell of a good influence. We think alike except when we don't, which is enough of the time that whether we agree with one another is irrelevant. Duncan's ideas, about law school, American legal history, Blackstone, Cambridge politics, rent control, mass torts, people we both dislike intensely, and people we both admire very much have contributed not only to my views, but to views I don't share in the slightest. That's because he is a daring, creative, empassioned, manipulative thinker, possessed of the rhetorical power to make an idea new. Like Duke Ellington, or Ezra Pound, once Duncan has heard something and restated it his way, the thing will never be the same again. On the other hand, as he would be the first to agree, philosophers have interpreted the world in various ways, but the point is to change it.

The idea you express from where he leaves you—asking why you should need to go to a law firm "for the training" after paying so much money to be trained by this law school—is the most important question to ask of everyone who seems to run this place throughout your time here. You should ask it of your teachers, in precisely the tone you do here: If you were able to conceive what sort of life in the law you want to have, isn't the tuition you are paying the price of learning from highly-petted and highly-credentialed experts precisely the skills you need to go about having it? Shouldn't they be helping you to face the imagination test, providing you with the environment in which to discover in law school—discover effectively, through real, intensive, personal counseling, not just hear about over free pizza—what sort of life in law you want? Shouldn't they then make sure you're provided with the mixture of skills and networks you will need in order to build that life from the moment you are awarded your license? The high degree of petting and all the credentials are bullshit, and the advertising is something more malodorous than that, if they can't or won't provide you with what it takes to be the lawyer you want to want to be, in return for the very high price they are charging you.

To our colleagues the "placement" workers, you should be asking the question in another way: Isn't that 'going to law firms for the training' propaganda total crap? Isn't it true that law firms train people to be legal office workers with very limited skills outside the network of business relations maintained by the owners of the equity? Haven't they largely been buying hours cheap and selling hours dear for four generations, during which they've optimized the "training" so it produces associates in large numbers and partners in appropriately small ones? What will they teach me about the independent life I want to live, outside their enterprise or the enterprises of their clients, and what skills will they teach me that the faculty here are not already responsible for helping me learn?

To the associates you meet at the recruiting events and in the summer jobs you shouldn't be taking: what has this law firm trained you to do that makes you more capable of doing the kind of law practice that really interests me than you were when you left law school? In other words, what has happened to you that I would want to happen to me if I used this firm as a springboard, the way I'm supposed to believe firms are springboards? Who do you know who has successfully used the firm as a springboard, and how was it done? Why aren't you doing it?

None of these is a rhetorical question. These are real inquiries that have real answers based on what people know and how they interpret the world they know better than you. By listening actively, hearing what they say and how they say it, weighing the implications of their views against the implications of others' views, you can frame your own judgments.

But, as Duncan would probably say if he were here with us at the moment, the point of interpreting the world is that an interpretation properly presented can change it. That's when we get to the power of rhetorical questions.

So then, collectively, through your student government and through your own direct action, to the law school collectively: its faculty, who are supposed to govern it; its alumni, who are supposed to support its growth and yours; the university, which seeks to embrace and profit from it: Are you committed to making the changes you need to make in what law school does to provide us with the education relevant, to now as a moment of profound change in our profession and to us as individuals seeking to develop skills to meet our social goals and priorities as practicing lawyers? If not, how dare you take all this money from us, driving us deep into debt in a very bad economy, while the jobs that prior students used to repay this debt are vanishing in the reorganization of the profession? Do you not fear the effect of our displeasure if you cheat us? (990 words)

I appreciate the kinds of questions Eben is encouraging us to ask, but I'm not angry enough or skeptical enough at the law school system or at this particular law school to do so (at least not yet). I was trying to figure out why this is, when other people on the class board are clearly starting down the path of critically evaluating what law school is actually giving them and what they're getting out of it. Thinking about it, one explanation for why I feel this way, as opposed to angry or cynical or ready to agitate for change, is that I'm conditioned to participating in an education system and economy that has always treated me this way.

At my liberal arts university, we were expected to (and I was required by my major to) take unpaid internships to "round out" our educations and make us marketable for jobs. Why weren't we marketable to begin with, as a very function of being students at that "top ten" university, and why did the university perpetuate a system that is so inherently unfair to who couldn't afford to work for a summer without getting paid? I then worked for two years at a think tank, but was told repeatedly that I would not be able to promote up to a more substantive position without going to graduate school. It seems a pretty common theme amongst my friends, but I allow that there's some homogeneity in that group, that graduate school is necessary to get to the next step in our careers and do the kind of work we want to do.

I guess I've just come to expect or believe that I have to pay my dues in various ways and that this is just the way "the system" works. I'm sure that there are other factors playing in to why I'm not incensed (I tend to be fairly risk-averse, I don't actually feel like I have time or energy to care about the "big picture" right now) but mostly, I just accept the way things are. I understand that revolutions don't often happen when people are willing to accept their own exploitation, but maybe I'm just resigned to it because I have been for a long time.

-- JessicaWirth - 06 Feb 2012

I found this provocative and enjoyable. A few quick points (I apologize for the lack of formality and for some of the snark, but we all know formality is just a tool of the hierarchy):

1) My reaction to this article shares something of my reaction to the lectures in this class. It's not that bad! I've liked law school so far. I've liked the people, liked the material, liked New York.

2) How much of what Kennedy talks about has to do with most law students being in their early-to-mid twenties? I'd be curious to see if older students have had significantly different experiences.

3) "It's like high school"- I've repeatedly gotten that vibe about law school, for better or worse. I enjoyed high school but don't really want to repeat it.

4) Kennedy writes about this near the end of the article, but it's worth bringing up again -I think he may be dramatically over-estimating his own privilege as a white male Harvard professor. One of the pitfalls of analyzing class/hierarchy is seeing everything through that lens [or lense? never sure]. Especially if you are at the top of that supposed hierarchy.

5) Is it true that law professors are mean to their secretaries? People who are mean to their secretaries are horrible.

6) Abiola, I agree strongly with your last point. This is especially an area where I'd be curious if older students feel differently.

-- ShakedSivan - 02 Feb 2012

Very interesting. Reading Kennedy, and thinking about our discussions in class, I am starting to feel that many of the skills I developed during my undergraduate degree are being pushed aside. Law school is focused on undoing what was done – subverting critical thought, inquisitorial natures, and activist proclivities developed in undergrad. During my liberal arts education, I was encouraged (albeit, perhaps not often enough) to think radically and engage in critical analysis. However, as Kennedy states, the casebook method of learning and adherence of legal formalism precludes this. We are taught that our “reaction to the hot case is childish” and are directed to restrain emotion and overt ‘political’ enthusiasm and ignore our gut reactions to what we may see as reprehensible moral wrongs. In doing so, we are trading the “equitable intuition” instilled in many of us at liberal arts colleges in favor of the rigid, black-and-white ‘logic’ supposedly valued by THE LAW.

In addition to being taught to curb our emotional reactions and political ideals, we are forced, as Kennedy highlights, to distinguish law from policy - to focus only on the often “circular, question-begging, incoherent, or so vague as to be meaningless” transcendental nonsense that we are meant to obtain from our reading of cases. These legal fictions we are meant to distill and memorize are not grounded in reality, but exist in a nebulous, intangible vacuum that we – soon to be ‘professionals’ – call THE LAW. I was also taught in undergrad – and still believe - that law cannot be divorced from policy; that the inputs breathing life into the law, dictating its creation and form, and the outputs instilling it with meaning, consequence and effect ARE political. If we want to know what the law really is, we need to consider what defines, creates and impacts its formation and to determine the tangible effects it has on society.

The casebook method of learning prohibits free thought and practical skill development. As Eben has pointed out, we spend hours reading each week but we do not retain or remember - we listen yet we do not hear. When asked recently in an interview what my favorite law school class is, I said Legal Practice Workshop. Unfortunately, I think, not enough attention is paid to this style of learning. LPW is ungraded (God forbid), and consequently, we as students – indoctrinated to be obsessed with the hierarchy of grades – tend to take it less seriously than our other classes and pay less attention. We are also not given enough feedback or direction on our work, or REALLY taught how to improve our legal analysis or writing abilities. The result is that the only (potentially) practical skills we are learning fall by the way side and are not honed and cultivated as they could and should be. As Kennedy says, “if law schools invested some of the time and money they now put into Socratic classes in developing systematic skills training, and committed themselves to giving constant, detailed feedback on student progress in learning those skills, they could graduate the vast majority of all law students in the country at the level of technical proficiency now achieved by a small minority in each institution”. I think that classes that push us to hone in on our intuitions, investigate and provide basis for our judgments, and justify our conclusions and assumptions with facts and examples, would be more useful than reading and regurgitating cases from 19th century England. It would be interesting to see what would happen if we had more classes like LPW, that at least – on the surface - aim to encourage self-direction, novel legal argument and reasoned analysis.

-- MeaganBurrows - 05 Feb 2012

I find it curious that Kennedy begins by denigrating the “trade-school” approach of law schools, when as Abiola points out law students are rarely prepared to practice law immediately following graduation. There are valid arguments against adopting a purely trade-school approach, such as that it is wasteful to devote an education by top legal minds to addressing day-to-day skills that will inevitably be picked up anyway. However, even accepting that, it continues to surprise me how little the educational practice of law schools seem to reflect recent (or even distant) developments in educational pedagogy. If any high school social studies student-teacher in a reputable education program tomorrow proposed a legal studies unit consisting of weekly lectures working their way through a huge textbook of identically presented case extracts, followed by a single four-hour exam to test legal reasoning and rule memorization, they would be laughed out of their advisor’s office. Yet this is the standard pedagogy for almost all core 1L classes around the country.

Moreover, by placing the emphasis almost solely on subject knowledge at the expense of pedagogical training, administrators perpetuate the myth that “anyone can teach” and that responsibility for learning difficulties should be placed on students themselves, rather than on the teaching practices of the professors. In part, this phenomenon may reflect a cynical (or perhaps realistic) acknowledgment that the brightest legal minds largely don’t value the teaching element of their academic responsibilities sufficiently to put the necessary effort into adequate teacher training and creative lesson planning. Like Teach for America, law school administrators may perceive a tradeoff between attracting the best minds and the most dedicated teachers, and decide consciously to target the former by lowering the standards of teacher training required prior to admittance as a teacher. The failure here is, I believe, one of law school administrations, not individual law professors, much as the hyperextension of TFA beyond its initial mission as a alternative source of assistant and substitute teachers is the fault of overzealous education-reformers and politicians rather than the dedicated and self-sacrificing TFA’ers themselves.

On that note, I only partially agree with Jessica’s claim that the “education system and economy are geared that way.” In many respects, such as the overemphasis on high-stakes testing, and the use of employability and earnings statistics as a proxy measure of relative school performance, law schools have been in the vanguard of a market-oriented, technocratic crusade against liberal, progressive or holistic educational models. In recent years this crusade for “competition, accountability and standards” has reached as far as pre-kindergarten, driven in part by a convergence of values between the right wing and the so-called “pragmatic centrists” within the Democratic Party. One only needs to consider the psychological, academic and career implications of their law school transcript – which separates “winners” from “losers” based on single-letter grades determined by inauthentic assessments of poorly defined standards – to appreciate why so many teachers from New Jersey to Wisconsin are standing up in opposition to the educational reforms enacted in recent years that are leading in that direction.

On the other hand, as Meagan pointed out, the deconstructive legal analysis emphasized in most classes seems to actively suppress – or at best, marginalize the value of – individual judgment based on one’s experiences and values. In this respect law school is regressive, telling us that we “have much to learn” rather than “much to contribute,” while education professors around the country are telling newly minted teachers to adopt the opposite approach. Like Meagan, I found LPW to be the most useful class from last semester, due to its (admittedly not strong enough) emphasis on individual skill building, genuine problem solving and constructive legal writing. Equally, the most interesting experiences in my other classes tended to involve questions that were either tangential or beyond the scope of a black-letter law class, because they were the questions that were actually relevant to my interests, or interesting from a theoretical legal point of view.

I remember Eben said early in the course that if he had his way one of the first courses we would take would be on “Persuasion.” I wonder what other people would have in their ideal 1L curriculum? Off the top of my head I would imagine perhaps the following:

1. Written Communication (including a critical evaluation of writing forms, i.e. the implications of rigid memo/brief formats and bluebook-style referencing) 2. Oral Communication (rhetoric, as well as how to target specific audiences i.e. clients of various backgrounds) 3. Legal Dispute Resolution (litigation-to-mediation, as well as pre-emptive i.e. effective contract formation and statutory construction) 4. Legal Research (self directed, project-based, perhaps utilizing on “Law and ____” approach to content-selection) 5. Jurisprudence 6. Lawyering across Multiple Legal Orders (how to navigate different sources as well as levels of law) 7. Client Advocacy Clinic (#MyAnchor how to navigate legal system to provide real outcomes for your client) 8. Empirical Analytic Methods in Social Science

What would you have? (824 words)

-- RohanGrey - 06 Feb 2012

Rohan I think you pose an excellent question. I am shocked this is not a question the faculty ever asks law students or law graduates, or that students demand get asked. School administration, professors, and students forget that we (the students) are paying them (the faculty and staff) to provide us with a service. Why don't we get to have more of an influence on how that service is provided? The only thing that happens is we are placated with a student senate who accomplishes such great achievements as getting 8 coat hooks installed in classrooms that seat 100+ students. We are forced to do course evaluations at the end of the semester, but never once have I had a Professor ask a class “What did you like about my teaching method and what would you like to see changed?” Never has an administrator asked “what class would you like to see taught?”. I appreciate Professor Moglen's class because in a roundabout way it has forced me to ask those questions. In my ideal 1L curriculum I would have:

1. Networking

  • How to know who you need to know in order to know what you want to know.
2. A day in the life
  • Each class a different professional comes to class and talks candidly about their job. Day-to-day tasks, funny and not funny stories from their career, a time when they experienced *flow*.
3. Finding a Needle in a Haystack
  • Class would consist of quite literally looking for a needle in a haystack. I think every job I've ever had involves some sort of mindless, rote task. Ask any law firm employee who has ever done discovery. Or any sandwich artist that has ever worked at Subway (I happen to have done both and found a remarkable comparison between the tasks). I think it's good practical training to expect such tasks, learn how to find pleasure in them, perhaps use the time as meditation, and move on. Additionally it would signal future employers that you will be able to hunker down and do the often ridiculous work they ask you to do, without complaining. And graduate school/additional degrees/more letters after your name in a signature line - especially at a place like Columbia - is oft about signaling, right?
4. Client Advocacy Clinic
  • See Rohan's description Above.
5. Media Consumption
  • How to figure out the best media diet for one's self. Tv, radio, newspaper, blogs? Local, National, or International? Liberal, Conservative, both, or unbiased? English, Spanish, Arabic, French? As Professor Moglen keeps pointing out, we are about to go into this world armed with a degree from Columbia, and the consequent power to manipulate the law in a way that does justice. In order to do justice we first need to recognize injustice. In order to find and recognize injustice in the world and what needs changing we need to know how to properly consume the information available to us. In an increasingly flat and technological world I often find myself overwhelmed with choice about the best way to consume news and information about what is going on in the world. A course which presents students with different media diets, and helps students to figure out what media diet best fits their personality would be incredibly helpful and eye-opening.
[Written by Skylar]

Rohan and Skylar,

I also think this is an excellent question and I am happy to have found your post before recreating a similar topic. One of the beauties about attending law school in New York, is that we are surrounded by so many opportunities to gain legal experience, yet many of us probably have not taken advantage of the opportunities that are available to work outside of the law school (or may feel there isn't enough time). Today, while Professor Moglen was speaking about ways in which we could obtain the type of experiences we will need to shape our individual practices, I began to think about putting together a detailed plan of the experiences I wanted and the people that I would like to work with prior to graduation so that I have options and won't have to "pawn my license away". I agree with some of your ideas for ways to structure an ideal curriculum, but one thing that my time at Columbia has opened my eyes to, is that if we expect to obtain all we need within this building or through the channels of Columbia, we will have missed many professional and personal development opportunities in New York. Thus, in crafting what the remainder of my time at Columbia will involve, I have begun to look for outside opportunities to get involved, create meaningful relationships with people who can help me in the future, and work for people whom I am in a position to help (many of whom are practicing attorneys that are not affiliated with this school).

In the same vein, I am interested in creating a new topic on the Wiki that will attempt to accumulate opportunities for students to get involved depending on our different interests (i.e. gender equality, environment, civil rights, education, etc). This idea came to me when I was sent an email about the NY State Attorney General's Civil Rights Bureau needing student volunteers to work on a fair housing issue, that may culminate in volunteers serving as witnesses at trial. Would anyone else be interested in this Wiki topic? It would be great if we could all work together to inform each other about opportunities such as this, so that those who are interested in alternative ways to obtain legal experience, can do so meaningfully. -- AbiolaFasehun - 27 Mar 2012


I would definitely be interested in the topic. I am feeling slightly overwhelmed at this point with the barrage of clinic/externship/curriculum opportunities for next year. There are so many fascinating and worthy organizations and programs I would love to get involved with - and many more I'm sure I would be interested in upon discovery of their existence. I would also like to get out of the Columbia bubble and do some pro bono work at a non profit in the city. I totally agree that it would be a shame not to take advantage of the opportunities presented to us to gain practical experience in New York. I have always found - throughout high school and my undergraduate degree - that I learn better, contribute more, and grow as a person through volunteering, working and engaging with other people outside of the classroom. I am sure many of us are worried about time management and over-committing, and I think it would be great to share resources, strategies, opportunities and our experiences on the Wiki. I think it could also be used as a breeding ground for unique initiatives that we ourselves may want to take up. While there are many amazing organizations and people already doing great work, there are also causes that fall by the wayside or that our individual classmates may be particularly invested in. I think it would be great if the wiki could serve as a platform for potential future projects that people may want to initiate, support, or undertake collectively. While they may not be spoon-fed to us by the administration or even readily apparent, I really think the tools we need to engage in the kind of work we want to do exist at Columbia and in New York. It would be immensely helpful to pool our knowledge and help one another to ferret out the often latent courses, professors, and practical training opportunities that hold value.

-- MeaganBurrows - 28 Mar 2012

Abiola and Meagan,

I would be interested in the topic as well. I definitely feel like I need to get involved with an issue that I care about as soon as possible. When I started law school, I didn't expect it to necessarily be enjoyable or even practical, and I thought of it more as a means to an end - the end being that I could help some people stay out of jail, or avoid eviction, or keep their food stamps. I'd really like to be reminded of the possibility of eventually actually helping people who need it. Class discussion generally reminds me of how unfair the world is, and somehow ConLaw? doesn't really fulfill my need to feel like I'm trying to do something about it. I'm really glad that you have an idea for a productive response to this issue, so thanks for that, and I'd be happy to get involved. r17 - 29 Mar 2012 - 02:07:28 - AngelineAndersen?

Meagan and Angeline,

After reflecting on my post over the weekend, I think that to uphold the integrity of the Wiki (serving as a place to reflect on class readings and discussions) it would be better if we create an email list so that we can send each other opportunities that we become aware of. If anyone else is interested feel free to email me so that I can include you on the mailing list. It's great to hear that you guys are interested! -- AbiolaFasehun - 02 Apr 2012


I think this is a great idea as well and would love to be involved. I do think, however, that the Wiki would be a great place to share it, at least for the rest of the semester. I find that e-mail lists end up being very cloistered and exclusive. I think the really nice thing about the Wiki is that anyone can glean ideas/thoughts/etc. in an open space without any restrictions, and I would be surprised if Eben would be mind if we used this space to expand the number of opportunities we have to get involved. -- JaredMiller - 02 Apr 2012

Below is Professor Moglen's ideal 1L schedule, to add to the list we started composing. I tried to transcribe what Professor Moglen said in class yesterday as best I could but I know I didn't get it word for word, so if somebody can show me where to find the class recordings or took better notes than I did, please correct what I have:

The overall structure of 1L year would be "Principles of liability in the common law."

1. Contract Liability

  • Contracts is about how to allocate risk with respect to things we expect. It is about protecting our expectations.
2. Tort Liability
  • Torts is about how to deal with planning for the things we don't expect. It is about what to do about the public planning for things people don't expect to happen - rat poison exploding, etc.
3. Property Liability
  • Property is interesting as a domain of civil law liability because property mixes contracts and torts and therefore should be taught in the second semester or should be dealt with as a way of checking the understanding of the first two. It is the combination of "one day my son this will be yours" and "you can't build a tannery next to a schoolyard"

Professors should teach all of this at once and later have a series of courses about more specific doctrinal areas - commercial transactions, mass torts, etc. The central spine of the thing could be articulated best by separating it from the other parts.

-- SkylarPolansky - 18 Apr 2012

That looks about right, Skylar. Jared and I were talking about it the other day, and it makes more sense the more you think about it. It takes a minute to remember that you aren't really meant to learn property or torts - these classes serve as sort of an extended Legal Methods class where substantive fields are used as vehicles. Its purpose sure fooled me, and the important stuff is hidden behind the gloss of substance. A semester long, pass/fail legal methods style class may be a more direct way to introduce students to these pillars without shifting student focus to substance before it's appropriate. Then, when you teach substantive classes you can begin in earnest.

On a related aside, I submit that, knowing nothing about law school or the legal profession before coming here, I am happy that there is virtually no course choice in the first year. If there was, advantage would be given to sons of lawyers and daughters of professors. You may not know the good "legal methods" classes to take. -- AlexKonik - 19 Apr 2012

This idea of a a teaching law firm greatly interests me. Teachers College recently went the same route with establishing its own elementary school (notably, a regular old, non-charter public school), which I am watching with great excitement. What are people's thoughts this idea as applied to somewhere like Columbia?

I think a teaching law firm is a wonderful idea but sadly something that an institution like Columbia is not going to entertain. The complaints about law school (failure to teach real skills, incredibly high cost of tuition with the hollow promise of a job) are complaints that don't apply to Columbia in the eyes of the administrators here (though they really should). As much as people stress out about getting jobs at EIP and elsewhere, 99% of us will be employed at graduation. The vast majority of us will also be working in jobs where our employers have the resources to make up from the lack of training we may get from the three years spent here. In a similar vein to teaching law firms, I went to the RebLaw? conference at Yale in February and heard about the great work Fred Rooney is doing at CUNY with what he calls "Social Justice Incubators." The idea is that CUNY will give recent grads office space and mentorship over a two-year period to help them start their own practices while simultaneously providing more low-cost legal services to low-income people. I mentioned this program to Dean Chapnick and asked if Columbia ever considered trying to start something like this, and she said there's just no demand for it - in here view, the difference between Columbia and CUNY is that Columbia grads have very little problem in the job market, while CUNY grads can't get jobs and need programs like these as a result. Necessity is the mother of invention, and unfortunately you're not going to get innovation from a school like Columbia that doesn't feel like the status quo is really so bad.

The shame of this is that the status quo is far worse than it appears. Yes, we will all be employed after graduation, but because Columbia doesn't care about leaving after three years with real legal skills, it is very difficult to find employment in jobs in which the employer doesn't have the resources to train you (i.e. non-big firm jobs). Eben constantly tells us to start our own practice after we graduate, and people think it's a ridiculous suggestion, in part because it is. At the moment, Columbia isn't training us to be lawyers but instead merely kicking us down the line to employers who have accepted the responsibility of training us instead. But we're the ones who suffer under that status quo - yes, we get jobs, but we often have to sell our license in those jobs in order to get the training that we should be receiving in exchange for the $150K that we've already paid.

-- JaredMiller - 09 Jun 2012

I went to lunch with a professor in the spring who is happy that law school had transitioned from a trade school to a graduate school over the past few generations. As someone who is not interesting in practicing, he thinks an academic environment is more dignified and interesting than a trade school. I think this view is completely legitimate, and that type of education is needed for those interested in academia. Yale obviously fills this function; it may be the case that you are better off going elsewhere to learn how to be a practicing lawyer (though I don't know). It is tricky because no one tells you that being a good practicing lawyer may not mean going to a top-ranked school. With other graduate programs, people know that entering academia is the goal upon completion of their program. Contrariwise, it is a small minority of law school students (nation wide, not at Yale) whose goal is an academic career. Rankings, it seems, reward treating your program as an academic rather than apprenticeship focused education.

I think there is a question: why do firms hire out of the "top" schools that may not train the best practitioners? My assumption is that law schools, like undergraduate universities, have more value to employers as signaling devices than as educational institutions. No one is taking the lead on any case out of school, so forget about training someone to be ready Day 1, but those kids at Columbia will pick up a little faster than others, on average.

In any case, I think there was a conscious effort in moving away from training practitioners. Columbia probably chased Yale (and rankings), trying to become an institution that trained academics. Firms didn't care because there is plenty of low-level work that provides on the job training, and the schools' selection criteria still offered a useful first filter.

I don't know when clinics became such a selling point, but now as the market is contracting you see schools trying to sell their clinical programs. With a combination of clinics, externships, focused course selection, and maybe some DIY advice from Eben, you can probably walk away from Columbia a decently well-trained practitioner. Just skip "Intro To Spanish" and take it through Rosetta Stone instead of CLS.

-- AlexKonik - 10 Jun 2012

Another element of firm signalling you haven't mentioned is the impact on potential clients of being able to claim that one's associates are all hired from "Harvard, Yale, Columbia, NYU and Chicago." Companies (like humans, it seems) are willing to pay a substantial premium to receive what they perceive to be top quality service when those services are crucially important, as is the case in a lot of complex, bet-the-firm legal services as well as even general contract drafting of deals worth many millions (or billions) of dollars. Think about a family paying "whatever it takes" to get the best education for their child, safety locks on their house, oncologist for the cancer-ridden wife, etc., and you start to get the picture of why it might be beneficial for law firms to hire the "cream" of the graduating class regardless of actual competency (particularly when, as you say, they don't need to be ready Day 1). --

I think, Alex, that there is some value to this more 'academic' training. Doctors, for instance, go through med school where they gain the knowledge necessary to practice, and then they spend a number of years in their residency learning how to put that to practical use.

With that said, I don't mean to imply that a law firm "residency" is the right option for lawyers. I just mean to say that a structure whereby a school focuses on understanding the doctrine from a big-picture, theoretical view and hard training comes after is not bad in and of itself. I think, even, spending time thinking about the material in this way allows us to be more creative lawyers; if our time was spent learning how to draft every motion you might need to know, we can't spend that time mulling over the sort of creative arguments we should be thinking about to be good advocates.

To that end, then, I look skeptically at your argument that better schools train worse practitioners and are only looked upon with favor by firms because they serve as filters. I should hope that the opportunity to learn from creative legal thinkers -- like Eben and the many others we have at CLS -- about more than just the hard tools of lawyering allows us to be better lawyers. Once we learn how to draft contracts and motions, that is.

-- MatthewCollins - 18 Jun 2012

Matthew - fair enough. Perhaps long or medium term, the training makes better lawyers (and it's not due to the people the schools select, but actually to the training). Talking to fellow externs this summer, Columbia seems to focus on theory and more academic pursuits to a much greater degree than other schools; I can only assume we sacrifice depth or breadth of practical law. I keep hearing "teach to the bar" shooting around the office like it isn't a dirty word.

I don't think a theoretical education is bad by any stretch. I think it's great. It's what I prefer. I think it's much more interesting than practice, and you're less likely to learn it on your own time or on the job. It could also makes you better on the job a year or two in (after you learn how to draft a contract). It probably also signals that you are pretty capable of learning practice on the job. Coming out of school, though, I think we may be learning some new material when we study for the bar.

-- AlexKonik - 19 Jun 2012


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r28 - 22 Jan 2013 - 18:17:18 - IanSullivan
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