February 28, 2011

Erwin Chemerinsky says those other law schools are "remarkably resistant to change."

It's the Dean of the new UC-Irvine Law School, speaking at a "Future of Legal Education" symposium:
One reason schools are sticking with a familiar playbook: "It's a cost-effective method of education," Mr. Chemerinsky said. "Putting one professor in front of a large group of students is very efficient." Clinical classes and simulations, which require low student-to-faculty ratios, cost more, he said.

Because his own law school wasn't bound by decades of tradition, Mr. Chemerinsky said, he and the founding faculty members were able to do some things differently, like stressing hands-on, interdisciplinary study across all three years.

Asked by an audience member how the school could afford to do that, he answered, "It starts with having to charge ridiculous levels of tuition."
Chemerinsky made a funny. No report of the volume of the laughter in the room.

Nothing like using other people's money to play out your expansive, innovative ideas. Except clinics and simulations are very old ideas. Cf. "high-speed" rail.

God forbid we should do what's "cost-effective."

By the way, what is "hands-on, interdisciplinary study"? Do we get to fondle a sociologist? 

You know what I would love in a new school — one that "wasn't bound by decades of tradition"? A deliberate decision to embrace tradition. Let's get a bunch of tough Socratic lawprofs in front of a classroom of students. And that's it. Perfectly cost-effective. You can save money on admissions too by going old-school. Make it an old-fashioned GPA/LSAT meritocracy (and flunk them out if they don't perform).

If you're a prospective law student, do you want to go to my new traditionalist school or to Chemerinsky's place? Is that because the tuition will be way lower or because you think that would be a better education? If you're an employer of law grads, do you want New Traditionalist grads or Chemerinsky grads?

If I had to go to a law school, I'd pick:
Chemerinsky's Old Visionary Law School
Althouse's New Traditionalist Law School
Something more moderately in the middle
pollcode.com free polls


Triangle Man said...

Can I be the Dean?

Once written, twice... said...

It seems Ann that UW is charging "ridiculous levels of tuition" so they can pay you $160,000.00 to barely work. Maybe the first thing we need to do is to stop tenure abuse?

Unknown said...

"Hands-on, interdisciplinary study," means the usual panoply of liberal and leftist causes.

The Crack Emcee said...

Asked by an audience member how the school could afford to do that, he answered, "It starts with having to charge ridiculous levels of tuition."

Tomato *SPLAT*

David said...

I'd pick University of Virginia, circa 1967, led by Hardy Cross Dillard, the best teacher I ever saw. We had tons of good teachers, including whippersnapper Nino Scalia. It was an exciting educational experience because it was intense, demanding, precise and actually useful. It was also dirt cheap, a major reason I went there.

UVA now has zillions of bells and whistles, and is still an excellent school. But I doubt the education is any better than it was 40 years ago. Not because it's bad now but because it was so great then.

Richard Dolan said...

Legal employers want law grads who can handle the work efficiently. Neither curriculum model is more likely to achieve that result, since it depends much more on the individual than the teaching method. The basics -- learning the terminology and the conceptual landscape of the law that gives the terminology order and meaning -- can be mastered in either model, as can the skills of thinking and writing clearly and logically.

Chermerinsky is just indulging in the games that deans and lawprofs seem to enjoy and always play. And 'new' continues to be the marketer's favorite word, so it's a two-fer.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Jay Retread,

What do you mean by "barely work"? She's got two courses this semester, which seems pretty typical for a law professor. How many would you suggest?

raf said...

Is this some kind of Socratic poll?

Unknown said...

As a former soc minor, I recall a couple of sociologists I wouldn't mind fondling, but, yeah, I wouldn't mind having a go at a class helmed by the good Professor.

I'd probably be ready for Freudian analysis by the time it was over, but that's another issue.

raf said...

Actually, as in most disciplines, the knowledge you will use to make your living will come from on-the-job experience/mentoring. So I would cut law school down to imparting the basic language and concepts and let the employer(s) handle the development of expertise in the narrow specialty which is the fate of all educated folk in these times.

If I were a prospective law student, that is.

Once written, twice... said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Automatic_Wing said...

I would attend your hardcore Socratic law school, Althouse, but only if you also hired zombie John Houseman to be on the faculty.

deborah said...

David, regale us with a Scalia story, please.

Once written, twice... said...

Ann has two courses this semester? What does that add up to ten hours a week? The reports I get from someone taking her this semester is that Ann clearly has not even bothered to update her lecture notes. Ann, please tell, what is the average number of hours yo work a week minus a generous four weeks for vacation?

T.K. Tortch said...

Chemerinsky's, well, a liberal's liberal constitutional scholar, but this is a neat little anecdote involving him:

When I was studying for the Bar exam, in the "Barbri" course, Chemerinsky delivered the lectures on Con Law. Three days of lectures, 2.5 hours morning and afternoon. We had a skeleton outline of what the lecture would cover; and there was a lot to cover. Chemerinsky delivered the lectures without notes or a podium. He just walked back & forth with a microphone and delivered the whole thing from memory, following each subdivision of the outline without error -- until the third day, in the morning, when he skipped a subheading. I heard an audible intake of breath in the auditorium -- but then he caught his error and returned to the correct point. People actually applauded.

traditionalguy said...

Now let me see. The Professor says that Professors challenging students to think and grading them based on what they retained is a Law School. But what will we do with the Administrators? Who will go to endless seminars planning how a smooth new way can be introduced to fix (screw up) what is actually working so that they will need to hire more Administrators to fix will then not work, ad infinitum.

Unknown said...

"Let's get a bunch of tough Socratic lawprofs in front of a classroom of students."

Your school is dead in the water: "Socratic" lawprofs died off a long time ago.

Bill said...

Oh please. Law schools haven't flunked anyone out in any meaningful sense since the mid-60s. That's 50 years of tradition-- how "old school" do you want to get?

I look out at my students and I think, "You poor bastards". Lawyers make a decent middle-class living these days, but for the most part we don't get rich, and a lot of us can't really afford to retire. There isn't really an expanding need for lawyers, but we add more and more new ones to the pool every year. It ain't easy out there for the vast majority of the people who graduate with JDs every year-- probably 90% of them are going to be disappointed with their career path, and it is because law schools are such lucrative profit centers. It really is a disgrace that we are exploiting these kids like this.

Triangle Man said...

Hasn't the law school curriculum, particularly in the first year, become standardized? My understanding is that many school prepare outlines for their students to "fill in" during lecture and provide handouts of course materials. Won't schools that provide additional "educational support" to their students win in the market for top students? As goes Harvard, so go the rest.

former law student said...

I agree with the professor: we need 1Ls who literally shit their pants with fear. Bring back the novel Paper Chase school -- hardly any 1Ls kill themselves nowadays.

Chemerinsky's school is too new to be unconventional. The top ten percent after 1L will be trying like hell to transfer out to a higher ranked school. If such schools do not recognize the Chemmy curriculum, the bright hardworking 1Ls will be SOL.

D.D. Driver said...

If the goal is to go "old school," then let's eliminate the law school requirement altogether. If you can pass the bar: you are a lawyer.

BAR/BRI can teach 3 years of law school in two months and for just a few thousand dollars.

Holmes said...

Students will attend the school that the system rewards the most. My guess is that the system would reward the novel/enlightenened/Chemerensky (liberal) school.

wv: barbill

As in, what will it all cost?

former law student said...

I had forgotten: Chemerinsky makes a tidy annual income from law schools' resistance to change, by peddling a phonebook thick, expensive ConLaw casebook, the casebook method being so opaque that anxious law students (is there any other kind?) feel compelled to buy Chemmy's equally thick and verbose hornbook as well.

Too many jims said...

Perhaps not their finest work, but given the choices, I vote for New Traditionalists.

I know I let you tell me what to do/
you were confident you knew best/
now things aren't working
like you want them to/
your confidence is what i detest

former law student said...

My guess is that the system would reward the novel/enlightenened/Chemerensky (liberal) school.

No profession is more conservative than law. The idea that the newbies must suffer the way the established ones did is powerful.

Amy Schley said...

Ann, I'm a recent graduate of law school. Here's my ideal law school experience:

Very limited pseudo-Socratic lectures out of casebooks. Once I've mastered the trick of skimming a case for the two relevant facts and the paragraph of legal reasoning, I don't need to wallow through some judge's attempt to butcher the English language forty times a day. Furthermore, while the legal education community assumes that what material one works to glean from the text is retained, the fact is BarBri ends up teaching most graduates far more law than they ever learned in the pseudo-Socratic lectures so beloved by professors.

Frequent feedback. Yes, only grading a final is easy for the professor, but it is known to be one of the worst ways to teach. Frequent testing (even frequent practice tests a la BarBri) are excellent for actually getting students to learn. It is also especially useful to help students learn the prof's grading style, something that is pretty much impossible under a final-only grading system.

Extensive use of writing. The point of "thinking like a lawyer" rationals for pseudo-Socratic lectures is to be a better legal writer, so teach that process in Legal Writing classes. Furthermore, don't just limit the Legal Writing class to appellate briefs. Lawyers need to know how to draft client letters, complaints, responses, and basic contracts (for use with one's clients, if nothing else). Advance classes should teach drafting wills, real estate contracts, patents, etc. The legal education community has assumed that the graduate's first job will teach all that. Well, that assumption may have worked when most students could find employment immediately after graduation, but right now, employers would much prefer to not pay someone to learn the basics of the profession. As a result, a graduate is neither prepared for a firm job nor for solo practice.

Heavy emphasis on clinical work. Lawyers need to have actual skills, not just theoretical knowledge. Schools should offer clinics in not just appellate and trial practice, but also clinics in contract negotiation, alternative dispute resolution, business origination, and the other situations in which practicing lawyers find themselves.

Obviously, this will never happen, as it requires professors skilled in non-academic legal practice and willing to put in far more work, but this is what law school needs to be about.

Anonymous said...

The University of Wisconsin Law School could hire two or three clinical professors with the salary they pay Ann Althouse. When I was in one of Ann's classes, I think there were about 30 students in the class. A clinical professor could probably manage 10 or 15 students.
Listening to Professor Althouse ramble about some case, then assume some incoherent fact pattern and ramble some more, added nothing to my law school experience. It was a waste of time after the first 30 minutes. On the other hand, my classmates who participated in clinical programs had the opportunity to assist actual clients, sometimes even freeing them from prison. Althouse doesn't teach people how to be lawyers, even though they pay thousands upon thousands of dollars to go to a PROFESSIONAL school with lawyerdom as the goal. The goal is NOT to become a professor, or a policy wonk, the goal is to be a real life, practicing lawyer.

Bob_R said...

Yea for high flunk out rates! Land grant universities used to have a tradition of low (sometimes essentially open) admission standards and high failure rates for first year students. Now we are explicitly judged on student retention. (Nothing makes a Dean love the math department more.)

former law student said...

Unemployment: why do you think they put spider solitaire on laptops, if not to give your brain something to do while the Socratic method takes place?

If law teachers actually taught law, law school could be cut to three semesters.

Compare any law school where the civil law reigns -- it's taught like any lecture-based subject.

Rick67 said...

I'd go to WoW's law school. Fits my philosophy of teaching (which I've had a few opportunities to implement) very well. Lots of smaller exams. Lots of small writing assignments. Does mean more frequent grading. Rewards consistency more than cramming.

Triangle Man said...


So, we can mark you down as against Constitutional Law in the curriculum?

Henry said...

I voted for New Traditionalist but really I wonder: what in a practical legal education couldn't be handled with correspondence courses?

I work in a field in which many people are self-taught. I really wonder why anyone needs to jump through someone else's gilded hoops to succeed (other than the demon of credentialism). Get educated as cheaply as possible is my motto. The most important thing to learn is how to educate yourself without the obligation of living up to your tuition payment.

Henry said...

Unemployment wrote The University of Wisconsin Law School could hire two or three clinical professors with the salary they pay Ann Althouse.

They could hire four or five preschool teachers instead. Think of what an awesome daycare they could have!

Rich B said...


I think you are getting some payback for being insufficiently sympathetic to Big (government) Labor.

KCFleming said...

Law school needs to be revamped entirely. Same with medical school, and all of higher and secondary education; all need dramatic improvements in productivity.

Walter Russell Mead' had it right:
"[W]e need to separate training from education and make training as widely available, cheap and convenient as possible."

He advised:
* students need to be evaluated and credentialed on the basis of what they know, not by time served.

* an exam-based system, rather than by instructional hours

* computers are going to have to replace people wherever possible

* delete the bullshit courses and social engineering crap

* replace doctors and lawyers with lesser-trained staff to do the most routine commodifiable work

DKWalser said...

As an employer, I want to know that a student mastered the class's subject matter. The traditional method of instruction provided that assurance. It wasn't a perfect assurance, but I knew that an 'A' in Professor Ironside's class meant something. The modern interdisciplinary approach provides me with no assurance that the student knows anything about the subject matter. He or she may be great in getting along in a group setting -- which is something -- but it tells me next to nothing about what he or she learned about the subject matter.

former law student said...

replace doctors and lawyers with lesser-trained staff to do the most routine commodifiable work

This sounds good -- and in fact has been the medical practice for years -- but is inefficient unless doctors can be cut out of the process entirely. Typically I end up explaining my symptoms two or three times -- for one reason that the MD never tells me what the downstream people told her.

former law student said...

As an employer, I want to know that a student mastered the class's subject matter. The traditional method of instruction provided that assurance. It wasn't a perfect assurance, but I knew that an 'A' in Professor Ironside's class meant something.

The trouble with the Socratic mehod is the complete disconnect between the traditional method of instruction and the traditional method of grading. The student would be far better served huddling with a hornbook, working practice exams, than spending even one minute in class.

Anonymous said...

Do you really want to rely on exam grades as an indicator of "mastery" of a subject when they look like this: http://althouse.blogspot.com/2009/06/empathy-exam.html

Henry said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Henry said...

FLS wrote: The student would be far better served huddling with a hornbook, working practice exams, than spending even one minute in class.

Exactly. But this is true for professor Chemerinsky's proposals as well. Except for those students that rely upon peer support to apply themselves, almost all subjects can be learned via diligent self-study. The one use for a professor or expert is as a mentor to guide you toward best practices and handle the occasional stumper.

The problem with Chemerinsky's proposals is not just their cost; it's that they're incredibly time-consuming. It's like learning about business by going to meetings.

Unknown said...

I'm a traditionalist.

Although, if the sociologist is hot enough....

Unknown said...

re: Something moderately in the middle.

Check out Pacific McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, CA. On the one hand, they are "old school" because: (1) "Socratic" lawprofs; (2) no grade inflation and transparent class ranking; and (3) a hard-core core curriculum (year-long courses in torts, contracts, civ pro, property, con law, biz ass).

On the other hand, they are "new school" because they emphasize student retention and outreach, internships and clinics.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

I was an undergrad at UC Irvine back in the seventies. Many in the faculty were counterculture types who did not believe in grading. Of course there were some real teachers there too, and my university career ran hard aground when, expecting the former, I encountered the latter. It sounds like this is a rerun.

Robin said...

Well, its been a long time since I was in law school ... but I can't imagine any circumstance where I'd want to attend a law school run by Erwin. Including getting a free ride.

Taking Con Law from his ex-wife was bad enough as it was.

XWL said...

Isn't this backwards?

Rather than find better ways for lawyers to tease sense out of legal writings, why not force those producing legal writs to write sense in the first place?

Law needn't be complicated, most common law was spun from common sense, yet layers upon layers of jargonistic tradition has divorced the sense from law.

Law should be something everyone can understand, rather than making tricksier lawyers, make less tricksy laws.

Beldar said...

It's been too long since I was a college student, planning on law school, for me to take your poll, Prof. Althouse.

As someone who's interviewed hundreds and hired dozens for BigLaw starting jobs, however, I can tell you I would not go to Chemerinsky's school to recruit, and would probably give only cursory review to any unsolicited resume from any student there, regardless of class rank.

Unknown said...

Outside the USA, law is an under-graduated school.4 or 5 years is the standard.( 7 in Italy). There is no reason but as a barrier to entrance to be otherwise. And an easy career btw

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

I hope Walker wins soon. we dont want to waste time skipping ad personam attacks on you

atlharp said...

"It seems Ann that UW is charging 'ridiculous levels of tuition' so they can pay you $160,000.00 to barely work. Maybe the first thing we need to do is to stop tenure abuse?"

Wow, that came out of left field. You know Ann if you were Union they would say that is a fair wage and demand you show up to "get a little bloody." Hey buddy, at least she isn't bucking for a pay raise!

pashley said...

I like Lawbringer's suggestions, lawschool will be 90% pragmatic and hands on to stay viable.

Socratic method? Please tell me you are kidding. Lets even imagine you have professors who can do Socratic method well, and that the student is sufficiently intellectually and emotionally developed to be receptive. You want to take a 22-year-old and, finally, teach them to think critically? Again, your kidding, right? Either teach them at 14, or wait until 44.

Look, let me break the bad news to everyone here. How long can you expect law schools to hire very expensive professors to teach people a profession that pays about as well as a good loan officer? Until the government stops subsidizing the kids tuition. Then, like the housing market, it will be all over.

SMSgt Mac said...

Who cares what Chemerinsky thinks? I lived in LA for a decade doing the 'Big Commute' and listened to KFI640AM for the traffic reports. During the 'news' segments, whenver there was a 'law' oriented news story (as in 'always'-- what with all the ballot Propositions brought forward every year) the station would roll out Chemerinsky who'd spew some twisted opinion on the law.

Stephen said...

WoW Lawbringer said... exactly what needs to be done to actually teach people to think like lawyers rather than to think like potential law professors.

Something no one really acknowledges is that it takes about four to six years post graduation from law school before law students start to think like lawyers rather than law students.

But WoW Lawbringer's approach, while supported by solid science as a superior way to teach, is actual hard work for teachers.

It is, also, the only honest way to actually provide true value. Everything else merely provides a setting for students to teach themselves in spite of (rather than because of) the instruction.

Otherwise BAR/BRI would be superfluous.

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Doreen Boxer said...

Also, take note that there were some laws passed later than this, which amended it to a certain extent.

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