Law in Contemporary Society
Note: This is a new topic that originated here. -- KeithEdelman - 30 Mar 2009

I would like to address the issue regarding the following inquiry:

"Prof. Moglen today discussed California residents deciding between Columbia and public universities. I don't recall anyone asking or discussing this. Did anyone have this experience?"

Well, that was me (along with a few other members of the class, I'm aware of). I believe Professor Moglen's statement is an oversimplification of the situation when deciding to choose between law schools. Columbia does not need to "con" people into thinking that it is somehow "superior" or "better" than these so called "public schools" to get them to pay extra tuition to come here. The reasons are as follows:

1. It is not necessarily true that a public CA school would be cheaper than Columbia Law School. Each school has different methodologies for awarding financial aid, and each school has different capabilities and priorities when choosing to award financial aid. In-state tuition will not necessarily compensate for a Columbia grant. Simply put, the main premise, that we are paying more for basically the same, is quite flawed.

2. Columbia itself is not fungible. Columbia is a unique law school. It is located in Upper West Side, NYC. I don't know of any public CA schools that are located in NYC. Columbia has people from all walks of the world. Public CA schools typically have an overwhelming majority of CA residents. There is definitely a different "diversity of thought" felt here than at many CA schools. Columbia has a unique alumni network, tradition, etc. that simply cannot be replicated in a CA public school (separate but equal...not.) Some people choose to attend because they enjoy the particulars of the law school, and not necessarily because they believe the cons perpetuated by the admins.

3. Columbia's students are similarly not fungible. This extends from point 2, but grows a bit beyond that. At most public CA schools, one will not find as many high LSAT/GPA students. What does this actually mean when it comes to student interaction? The real answer is, as much as law schools want it to mean. However, if law schools are correct in believing that these two numbers correlate with intelligence and success in the practice and learning of law (which is debatable and may be flawed), then here you will find a greater concentration of "intelligence." I agree this statement may be controversial, and I don't honestly subscribe to it, but it can easily be perceived as such by the similarly conflicted admit student.

I believe there are more reasons than the few enumerated ones I have provided above. But, I hope that I have addressed my thoughts on this point adequately.

-- AlexHu - 27 Mar 2009

I believe that your response is a bit misplaced as to what Eben said in class. Each of your reasons, while true in the narrow sense, doesn't really respond to the general proposition that, in Veblen's terms, many law students conspicuously waste large amounts of money by attending CLS when a public institution would provide a comparable education.

Sure, some students may receive grants from Columbia. But pointing out the exception doesn't help much; it might, in fact, strengthen the opposing position by admitting the general applicability of the initial proposition.

Indeed, there are no California schools in New York. But there are no New York schools in California either. UC-Boalt has its own unique alumni network and traditions as well. If we define admitted students' needs to be (1) attend an Upper West Side law school and (2) have connections to Columbia alumni, then yes they are getting exactly what they require. But the initial proposition indicates that future law students only need a good legal education. By purchasing a CLS degree, therefore, they conspicuously waste. I suppose there is room for argument as to whether attending school in NYC and being with over-achievers provides a better legal education than at Boalt.

But more importantly, assuming that students want to have powerful alumni connections, be in NYC, etc., I believe you actually validate Eben's comment. The reason that students want those features, originally, is that they demonstrate prowess and superiority over peers. In time, Veblen would say, the features themselves become highly valued, even though they do not meet the original need (receiving an adequate legal education).

-- KeithEdelman - 28 Mar 2009

Responding to both Alex and Keith’s comments above I would have to say that Keith is closer to the mark considering “the initial proposition indicates that future law students only need a good legal education.” Given that, it is largely true that the education you would receive for in-state tuition at a public law school, especially one like Boalt or Michigan, would rival that at Columbia. Moglen’s point follows from that assumption. The most relevant part of Keith’s post, however, is where he mentions that Veblen would probably say that over time the features (prestige, alumni networks, etc.) one conspicuously wastes to purchase become valued themselves. Now, no rational applicant (much less one from a state like CA with tempting in-state tuition options) really applies to law school with the stated goal of simply “an adequate legal education”. While it may have been useful to discuss it in these terms for Veblen’s argument, it is absolutely pointless in reality. The fact that the goal of an adequate legal education could be achieved at so many different schools means it is likely the other criteria that come to the fore in selecting a law school.

-- EldonWright - 30 Mar 2009

I don't believe that Veblen's analysis is meant to explain our modes of thinking. In fact, assuming that applicants are rational, Veblen would argue that they will select what is irrational. I thought Eben's statement was rooted in expanding Veblen's analysis to the admitted students day.

Trying to predict how admitted students select a law school might indeed be more practical, but delving into their mindset, is, I believe, outside Veblen's inquiry.

-- KeithEdelman - 31 Mar 2009

I think Veblen would probably explain the “the sheer draw of a new city/coast/people” to which EJ attributed the prevalence of Californians here at CLS as a form of conspicuous leisure, as described in Chapter III. On this interpretation, stories about life as a twentysomething law student in New York City are comparable to “knowledge...of the latest properties of dress, furniture and equipage” which serve as “immaterial evidence of past leisure”. In other words, so many people would not be paying a premium for a more expensive legal education in a more glamorous locale than their hometown if doing so did not exhibit their capacity to spend money on getting cultured, above and beyond earning a living. That, I think, is what Veblen would have to say about it.

If I was Californian, I'd be insulted by the preceding paragraph. Veblen tries to avoid our ire by claiming that he's not explaining our motivations for our actions, but rather merely why certain practices survive. But is anyone convinced?

-- MichaelDreibelbis - 31 Mar 2009

I think there is some legitimacy to that interpretation of why someone would come here versus a public school. The ability to say one went to a private school in the 'big city' can be used as a conspicuous good much like those described here.

Alternatively, there are pragmatic reasons to attend CLS versus a public school, including those that might overlap with ones that could be considered conspicuous. I think the problem comes in the generalizations made regarding the decision making process.

-- AaronShepard - 31 Mar 2009

Perhaps coming to CLS over a public law school isn’t necessarily an exercise in conspicuous waste by us ourselves, but instead a recognition that our future employers like to engage in conspicuous waste by hiring us. When I made the decision to come here, I don’t know that I did it so much because I wanted to be able to say that I went to CLS (although I can’t deny that in part), but more so because employers like to say they hire students from top schools.

Acknowledging this may make us just as culpable as when we accept the grading and curving system to appease firms at the possible expense of fostering a better learning environment. But it also matters whether we are focusing on the next 3 years or the next 30. Over the next 3 years, it may be true that I can get the same quality of education at a public school, but my return upon graduation may be diminished. While paying the bill each semester seems painful when remembering the cost of other schools I looked at, I’m not doing it because I want to show the world that I have money to waste. I suppose, on one level, I do it because I want at least the possibility to work at a firm that wants show the world they have plenty of money to spend on lawyers graduating from over-priced schools. I’m not sure that this makes me any less a part of the problem but it seems like a difference worth considering.

-- EllaAiken - 04 Apr 2009



Webs Webs

r5 - 07 Jan 2010 - 22:47:40 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM