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Caste Revisited

August 13th, 2021 / By

I’ve written several times about the caste system in legal education: a hierarchy that favors professors who teach torts, contracts, and other legal “doctrine” over those who teach legal writing, clinics, and other legal “skills.” This favoritism includes higher pay, more job security, and greater respect. Many schools maintain third and fourth classes that rank even lower than the second class citizens of clinics and legal writing. Academic support professors, teaching fellows, contract faculty, adjuncts, librarians, and other staff members often occupy those lowest rungs of the academic hierarchy.

California Western Steps Up

I’m returning to this topic because several related items recently hit my inbox. First, I received a press release from the California Western School of Law announcing that it had adopted a unitary tenure track that “creates opportunities for its clinical, Legal Skills, and other skills professors who were hired as full-time faculty to achieve tenure, with the same faculty governance and voting rights that come with an existing tenure-stream faculty position.” Kudos!

The press release, however, leaves several open questions. Will pay be equalized for professors on this unitary tenure track? Or will some professors still be more equal than others? How much research will be required for professors to join this unitary tenure track? Will the currently tenured professors turn their noses up at the scholarly focus of their new colleagues? And what about professors who choose not to join the unitary tenure track? Will the school recognize their ongoing contributions through higher pay and respect?

I’m not trying to rain on California Western’s parade: they have taken a hard step that many other schools are still resisting. I hope they will also find answers to these remaining questions, which schools face whether or not they embrace a unitary tenure track. What type of distinctions are appropriate among employees in a single organization? How do we value different types of contributions to the overall enterprise? Are the answers different for an academic institution and a manufacturing plant?

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Salaries and Scholarship

January 13th, 2018 / By

Law professors teach a wide variety of subjects: Property, Civil Procedure, Legal Writing, Law & Economics, Business Associations,  Feminist Legal Theory, Law Clinics. Professors bring diverse backgrounds to this teaching. Some hold JDs, some hold PhDs, some hold both. Some have practiced law, while others have not. Some earned high salaries before joining a law faculty, while others drew more modest paychecks in government, legal aid, nonprofits, or other academic fields.

Despite this variety, there is one constant: professors who focus their teaching on legal writing or clinical courses earn significantly less money than those who teach other types of classes. This is true regardless of degrees, prior professional experience, or past salary level. What explains this pay gap? And what does the gap tell us about our values in legal education?

Before answering those questions, we have to understand the size of the gap. Academics shy away from salary discussions, but silence can hide inequity. To break that silence, I have been gathering information from salary databases released by public universities. I don’t have information on every public law school, but a surprising amount of data is available.

In this post, I will refer to salaries at one leading law school. US News ranks this school among the top 25 schools nationally, and it is a clear leader in legal education. The salaries at this school, which I’ll call the Myra Bradwell College of Law, do not reflect salaries at every law school. They do, however, illustrate the type of salary gap our schools maintain between professors who teach clinics/legal writing and those who teach other subjects.*


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New AALS Section: Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession

January 2nd, 2018 / By

If you’re at the AALS meeting, don’t miss the inaugural session of the new Section on Empirical Study of Legal Education & the Legal Profession. Spearheaded by Judith Wegner, this Section welcomes colleagues who are interested in conducting or using empirical research relating to legal education and the legal profession. You don’t need to be a numbers person to benefit from this Section–just someone who is interested in studying what we do in law schools and the legal profession.

The inaugural panel discussion, which kicks off at 3:30 p.m. tomorrow (Wednesday, January 3) shows the breadth of this Section:

  • Raul Ruiz (Florida International University): Predicting Student Outcomes: Data Mining for Law Schools
  • Victor Quintinilla (Mauer School of Law, IU-Bloomington): Productive Mind-Set, the Power of Belonging, and Bar Passage
  • Bryant Garth (UC Irvine and formerly American Bar Foundation): Understanding the Changing Legal Profession
  • Kellye Testy (LSAC and formerly University of Washington): The LSAC’s Emerging Research Priorities
  • Aaron Taylor (Access Lex and St. Louis University): AccessLex’s Emerging Research Priorities

If that’s not enough to pique your interest, there will also be break-out groups discussing:

  • Conducting and Consuming Research: What tools, resources, or professional development do you need to conduct or use empirical studies?
  • Institutional Excellence and Assessment: How can law schools best assess programmatic and student learning outcomes? What methods and data management strategies apply?
  • Admissions and Academic Success: What are best practices in admissions and academic success programs for students with mixed indicators? How do we know?
  • Bar Exam Preparation & Licensing: What interventions work in preparing students to succeed on the bar exam? How can professional licensing strategies be improved?
  • Professional Identity and Satisfaction: What can be done to enhance students’ sense of professional identity? What factors affect lawyer satisfaction, success, and happiness?

This is the place to be at AALS on Wednesday afternoon. If you can’t make the session but want to connect with the Section, email Judith Wegner at

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New Year’s Resolutions for Law School Professors

January 1st, 2018 / By
  1. Keep your brain healthy by trying new types of mental exercise. Commit to learning at least one of these cognitive skills during the new year: fact gathering, client counseling, interviewing, or negotiating. Then help your students exercise their brains by teaching these kinds of cognition in the classroom.
  2. Cut back on fatty law review articles. The legal academy is showing dangerous signs of scholarly obesity. Writing law review articles is like eating chocolate cake: best done in moderation.
  3. Meet new people. Talk to practitioners and clients in the fields you teach. How do practitioners approach their clients’ problems? What matters most to the clients?
  4. Help the disadvantaged. Teach your students the doctrine and cognitive skills they need to serve low- and moderate-income clients.
  5. Challenge your biases–and those of your institution. Do you value some types of scholarship and teaching more than others? Does your institution award higher salaries and status to colleagues who teach case analysis rather than other types of cognitive expertise? How do those biases affect the provision of legal services?

Embrace change: This is the 6,576th day of the new millennium.

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Clinics and Costs

May 6th, 2017 / By

Bob Kuehn has written an incisive article about the relationship between law school tuition and clinical education. Contrary to many educators’ assumptions, Bob finds that there is no statistically significant relationship between the tuition charged by schools that require a clinical experience and schools that do not. Requiring students to complete a clinic before graduation, in other words, does not correspond with increased tuition.

Similarly, schools that guarantee students a clinical experience–should they choose to take one–do not charge significantly higher tuition than schools without that guarantee. Accounting for tuition discounts did not change these results: Schools with clinical requirements or guarantees did not acquire significantly more tuition revenue per student than those without those requirements or guarantees.

The same story emerged when Bob analyzed clinical course availability (rather than requirements or guarantees). Enhanced clinical opportunities never correlated significantly with higher tuition (either list price or discounted). On the contrary, several analyses found a significant relationship between clinical opportunities and lower tuition rates. Bob summarizes the results of his research in a post on the Best Practices for Legal Education blog.

How could this be? Aren’t clinics incredibly expensive to run? Well, yes and no. As Bob explains, the availability of clinical education depends more on the choices that law schools make than on the direct cost of clinics.


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Alternative Publishing Models For Cost-Conscious Professors

July 13th, 2016 / By

Casebooks are shockingly expensive. The latest edition of Stone, Seidman, Sunstein, Tushnet, and Karlan’s Constitutional Law has a list price of $242. It’s even more shocking when you consider where the money goes. Not to pay for the cases and other primary materials that make up most of a casebook’s contents: they’re public domain and free to all. Mostly not to cover printing costs: the paperback edition of The Power Broker (to pick a book with the same word count and heft as a casebook) has a list price of $26, and you can buy it on Amazon for $18. Mostly not to authors: royalty rates are typically 10% to 20%. No, most of that money ends up in the pockets of the casebook publishers and other middlemen in the casebook chain. This is a tax on legal education, sucking money from law students and from the taxpayers underwriting their student loans. (more…)

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Scholarship Advice

April 5th, 2016 / By

My talented colleague Chris Walker is blogging this month at PrawfsBlawg with a series of posts about how junior scholars can maximize the impact of their scholarship. As Chris explains in his initial post, he hopes to crowdsource answers to questions that junior scholars frequently ask.

I hope Chris’s discussion will attract both junior scholars and more senior ones. A lot has changed in the world of legal scholarship over the last thirty-five years:

  • Junior professors begin their tenure-track work with more substantial scholarly experience.
  • Technology and reduced teaching loads allow tenure-track faculty to produce more scholarship–which, in turn, raises expectations for that production.
  • Law reviews, conferences, and online forums have multiplied, making scholarship more interactive.
  • Interdisciplinary work has increased and become more sophisticated.
  • Concerns about insularity have revived interest (at least among some faculty) in scholarship that directly addresses student or practitioner needs.

Given these changes, how do we choose to use the time given us for scholarship? The opportunity to engage in unfettered scholarship is a great privilege–one that we should execute in the public interest. That doesn’t mean that the public should dictate our scholarship; great discoveries sometimes come from meandering, seemingly “irrelevant” explorations. But we, the scholars, should regularly reflect on the ways we use our privilege.


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Scholarship: Cost and Value

March 12th, 2015 / By

Critics of legal education raise two key questions about our scholarship: (1) How much value does it offer? And, (2) do law schools have to spend so much money to produce that value?

The answer to the second question is easy: No. We used to produce plenty of superb scholarship with typewriters and four-course teaching loads. Now that we have laptops, tablets, high-powered statistical software, and 24/7 online libraries, our productivity has leaped. Law schools could easily restore teaching loads to four courses a year while still facilitating plenty of good research. The resulting reduction in faculty size could help fund scholarships and reduce tuition.

The answer to the value question is harder. Do we mean immediate pay-off or long term influence? Do we care about value to judges, legislators, practicing attorneys, clients, teachers, students, or some other group? Does each article have to demonstrate value? Or do we recognize that trial and error is part of scholarship as well as other endeavors?

Those are difficult questions and they deserve a series of posts. For now, I’ll limit my discussion to a recent paper by Jeffrey Harrison and Amy Mashburn, which has already provoked considerable commentary. I agree with some of Harrison and Mashburn’s observations, but the empirical part of their paper goes badly astray. Without better method, their conclusions can’t stand. In fact, as I note below, some of their findings seem at odds with their recommendations.

Measuring Citation Strength

Harrison and Mashburn decided to measure the strength of citations to scholarly work, rather than simply count the number of citations. That was an excellent idea; scholars in other fields have done this for decades. There’s a good review of that earlier work in Bornmann & Daniel, Do Citation Counts Measure? A Review of Studies on Citing Behavior, 64 Journal of Documentation 45 (2008). (By the way, isn’t that an amazing name for a journal?)

If Harrison and Mashburn had consulted this literature, they would have found some good guideposts for their own approach. Instead, the paper’s method will make any social scientist cringe. There’s a “control group” that is nothing of the sort, and the method used for choosing articles in that group is badly flawed.* There is little explanation of how they developed or applied their typology (written protocol? inter-rater agreement? training periods?). Harrison and Mashburn tell us only that the distinctions were “highly subjective,” the lines were “difficult to draw,” and “even a second analysis by the current researchers could result in a different count.” Ouch.

Is it possible to make qualitative decisions about citation strength in a thoughtful, documented way? Absolutely. Here’s an example of a recent study of citation types that articulates a rigorous method: Stefan Stremersch, et al., Unraveling Scientific Impact: Citation Types in Marketing Journals, 32 Int’l Journal of Research in Marketing 64 (2015). Harrison and Mashburn might choose a different design than previous scholars, but they need to develop their parameters, articulate them to others, and apply them in a controlled way.

Influence and Usefulness

Harrison and Mashburn conclude that most legal scholarship “is not regarded as useful.” Even when a judge or scholar cites an article, they find, most of the cited articles “serve no useful function in helping the citing author advance or articulate a new idea, theory or insight.” Application of this standard, however, leads to some troubling results.

The authors point, for example, to an article by John Blume, Ten Years of Payne: Victim Impact Evidence in Capital Cases, 88 Cornell L. Rev. 257 (2003). A court cited this article for the seemingly banal fact that “the federal government, the military, and thirty-three of the thirty-eight states with the death penalty have authorized the use of victim impact evidence in capital sentencing.” Harrison and Mashburn dismiss this citation as “solely to the descriptive elements of the article.”

That’s true in a way, but this particular “description” didn’t exist until Blume researched all of that state and federal law to create it. The court wanted to know the state of the law, and Blume provided the answer. This answer may not have “advance[d] . . . a new idea, theory or insight,” but most cases don’t require that level of theory. Disputes do require information about the existing state of the law and Blume assembled information that helped advance resolution of this dispute. Why isn’t that a worthwhile type of influence?

I suspect that judges and practitioners appreciate the type of survey that Blume provided; analyzing the law of 40 jurisdictions requires both time and professional judgment. Blume, of course, did more than just survey the law: he also pointed out crevices and problems in the existing law. But dismissing a citation to the survey portion of his article seems contrary to the authors’ desire to create scholarship that will be more useful.

A reworked method might well distinguish citations to descriptive/survey research from those that adopt a scholar’s new theory. Asking scholars to limit their work to the latter, however, seems counter productive. A lot of people need to know what the law is, not just what it might be.

Judges and Scholars

One statistic in the Harrison and Mashburn article blew me away. On page 25, they note that 73 out of 198 articles from their “top 100” group of journals were cited by courts. That’s more than a third (36.9%) of the articles! I find that a phenomenally high citation rate. I know from personal experience that judges do pay attention to law review articles. When I clerked for Justice O’Connor, for example, she asked us to give her a shelf of law review articles for each of the bench memos we wrote. She didn’t want just our summaries of the articles–she wanted the articles themselves.

But I never would have guessed that the judicial citation rate was as high as 36.9% for professional articles, even for journals from the top 100 schools. At least in judicial circles, there’s a big drop-off between learning from an article and citing the article. Most judges try to keep their opinions lean, and there’s no cultural pressure to cite scholarly works.

I’m not sure how to mesh the judicial citation statistic with the tone of Harrison and Mashburn’s article. More than a third sounds like a high citation rate to me–as does the one quarter figure for journals in the 15-100 group.

Ongoing Discussion

Harrison and Mashburn urge critical debate over the value and funding of legal scholarship, and I back them all the way on that. I wrote this post in that spirit. As I note above, I don’t think law schools need to spend as much money as they do to produce strong levels of excellent scholarship. I also applaud efforts to replace citation counting with more nuanced measures of scholarly value. But we need much stronger empirical work to examine claims like the ones advanced in this paper. Are Harrison and Mashburn right that most legal scholarship “is not regarded as useful”? I don’t know, but I was put off by strong statements with weak empirical evidence.
* Harrison and Mashburn chose the first article from each volume. That’s a textbook example of non-random selection: the first article in a volume almost certainly differs, on average, from other articles.

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Lessons from MIT

October 1st, 2013 / By

Challenges in legal education, as others have noted, are part of deeper trends in higher education and the economy. My current work on a university-wide committee has taken me away from this blog, but it has increased my knowledge of other parts of higher education. Colleagues in many fields are struggling with “Robin Hood” tuition/scholarship practices; the growing gap between well-paid professors and low-paid teaching staff; and a new interface between the academy and workplace. Solutions are elusive, but these issues are provoking serious study.

In 2010, MIT President Susan Hockfield established MIT’s Production in the Innovation Economy (PIE) research group. Hockfield asked the group to study the decline of U.S. manufacturing, and to identify factors that might restore a more vibrant economy. The group conducted extensive research in the United States and abroad, produced a preview report, just released one book, and has a second book due in January.

What does any of this have to do with legal education or law practice? I’m struck by two points made in the preview report.

Products, Services, and Bundles

We used to divide the economy into products and services. Citing Harvard economist Richard Freeman, the MIT report notes that products are things we can drop on our feet. Services are less likely to hurt your feet, although they may mess with your mind.

Today, however, “the traditional line between ‘manufacturing’ and ‘services’ has become so blurred that it no longer serves to distinguish separable and distinct activities or end products.” (P. 10) Our economy still produces plenty of goods and services, but the economic “activities that create most value, that is, the ones that are most difficult for others to replicate, are bundles [of goods and services].” (Id.) Apple doesn’t just manufacture iPods; it sells a suite of goods and services that have changed the ways we listen to music, exercise, and learn.

Lawyers think of themselves as service providers, but many of our traditional services are quite product-like. You can, in fact, drop a contract, take-over agreement, or divorce decree on your foot. A box of documents, produced in response to a discovery request, could definitely stub your toe. These “products” result from intellectual work, but that’s true of any engineered item.

During the last decade, lawyers have been dismayed to see their services mutate more clearly into products. Want the paperwork for a simple divorce? You can buy it online or in a bookstore. Want to incorporate your small business? Those forms are available as well. E-discovery lawyers, working away at their basement computers, look more like assembly-line workers than professional service providers.

While lamenting this shift, legal educators and bar leaders have missed a key point: The most successful legal service providers have recognized that law is a bundle of products and services. We won’t get anywhere protesting the commodification of law practice. We have always produced commodities; form leases and form pleadings existed decades ago, and lawyers tweaked them for individual clients. Law has always included products.

Instead, we need to focus on the services that we can provide to accompany the products. “Service” doesn’t mean charging a lot of money to tweak the form pleading; it means providing the additional advice that clients actually want from their lawyers. To provide those services, the ones that will sustain lawyers during the next generation, we need to know much more about what today’s clients want. We also need to educate students in ways that focus on interacting with clients, determining what those clients need, and providing those services. Too much of today’s legal education still focuses on our products.

The concept of bundled goods and services can guide our way in legal education. Take a hard look at our curriculum. Which classes focus on products (the legal content we deliver to clients)? Which ones help students master services (listening to clients, responding to their needs, providing assistance that reaches beyond the legal product)? “Legal reasoning” and “thinking like a lawyer” don’t count as services in this rubric: those are necessary skills, but they are ones that lawyers use to design their product.

In the new economy, clients won’t pay much for legal products–they can purchase those at ever-declining cost. Instead, how do we educate students to provide the bundled service? Do we in legal education even know what those bundled services are?

Innovation and Production

The MIT report also stresses the feedback loops between innovation and production. Those forces have always depended on one another: R&D departments communicated with their production departments to refine concepts and perfect them for the market. “That’s because,” the MIT research group observes, “much learning takes place as companies move their ideas beyond prototypes and demonstration and through the stages of commercialization. Learning takes place as engineers and technicians on the factory floor come back with their problems to the design engineers and struggle with them to find better resolutions; learning takes place as users come back with problems.”

Over the last two decades, however, companies have separated these two functions. They have closed R&D departments, relying upon universities to provide innovation. At the same time, they have outsourced production to workers in other countries, placing research and production on separate continents. This trend toward separation, the MIT researchers contend, is one cause of America’s troubled economy. Companies in countries like Germany and China are moving ahead of us–in innovation as well as production–because they maintain close links between those functions.

Again, there is a lesson here for lawyers and legal educators. We have also increasingly separated innovation and production. I know some scholars who regularly test their ideas with practicing lawyers and clients, but I know many more who rely exclusively on academic workshops and conferences. Practicing lawyers contribute their share to this gap: many are too busy, or too focused on the short term, to spend time reflecting on new ideas.

Closing this gap could provide new energy for legal scholarship, as well as new products and services for lawyers to sell. Connecting research and practice doesn’t mean that all research will become client-specific, applied work. Other industries support plenty of basic scientific research because they know that basic research powers innovation. In law, we need to build the same infrastructure that other U.S. industries once had, and that MIT urges them to rebuild: collaborations that allow innovators and producers to learn from one another.

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Berkman Center Webcast on “Creating a Law School e-Curriculum”

June 27th, 2013 / By

The Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law has a live webcast on July 9th at 12:30 pm eastern called “Creating a Law School e-Curriculum.” The speaker will be Oliver R. Goodenough, a fellow at The Berkman Center and a Professor of Law at the Vermont Law School.

Here’s the description:

Legal practice and legal education both face disruptive change. Much of how and what we do as lawyers and how and what we have taught as legal educators is under scrutiny. Legal technology is an important factor in driving these challenges. Law schools reform their curriculums law and technology is an area that is ripe for expansion in our teaching. It also provides ample room for scholarly examination. Creating opportunities for learning how technology is shaping legal practice should be a priority for any school looking to provide a useful education for the lawyers of the present, let alone the future.

To watch the webcast, simply visit this page at 12:30 pm eastern on July 9th. If you’re in Boston, the same page provides a form for you to RSVP to the luncheon.

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