Saturday, February 7, 2015

Study: Paying Deans Millions as Effective - if not Moreso - Than "Experiental Education"

As most devoted readers know, law schools have been under a lot of pressure by certain irrational folks to reform - this despite the fact that law schools have historically done exceptionally well at educating America's lawyers, such that American justice has never been in better shape.

One of the popular reform "ideas" is adding more "experiential" "learning," things like clinics and externships, expensive do-hickeys that are less fun and lucrative than letting Professor McAncient dust off his UCC or Crim Pro outline each year, while profit margins soar and the lounge gets a new cappuccino machine with silver plating...drool...

The problem is that those expensive clunker clinics don't help employment outcomesLook, it's science!
To summarize the paper’s key finding: there is no statistical relationship between law school opportunities for skills training and JD employment outcomes. In contrast, employment outcomes do seem to be strongly related to law school prestige.

If prestige is what truly matters, why spend ridiculous amounts of money on clinics?  Everyone knows that clinics are associated with law schools where the 98% employed are most likely to work for government, small firms, or public interest firms; noble deeds, but far from the importance of appellate clerks and law professorships.  On the other hand, schools like Stanford, Yale, and Emory have no need for such things.

So what should the "lesser" law schools do?  How about instead of dumping cash in the sinkhole of training stupid practical lawyers, you instead pay out the bazooka bucks to land a worthy seven-figure dean?

There is literally no evidence that a domestic violence clinic is a pubic hair better than paying buying Erwin Chemerinsky his own private island.  But there IS evidence that having Erwin Chemerinsky as your dean can take prestige from zero to mid-level hero with a good chance at a federal court gig.

And that's what we call logic.  Letting your all-star professors backstroke in Scrooge McDuck's gold silo is literally as worthwhile as teaching (well, trying to teach) anyone to actually practice law.

Viva la profession.


  1. Prestige is the outward appearance of having money, leading to the irresistible conclusion of American folk lore that the money one has, one got deservedly.

    But 9 times out of 10 in these latter years money, particularly large amounts of it, turns out to have been ill-gotten.

    Prestige means corruption, oppression.

  2. Just wait until UC Irvine gets its first US News ranking this spring. Then you'll find out that Dean Chem has more prestige than anyone in the entire worldwide history of the law.


  3. BREAKING: A renowned 12th century rabbi has just endorsed Touro Law School's efforts to teach its students how to fish.

  4. So the solution is to close down all the non-prestigious law schools. Which is essentially all of them outside of maybe 16 or so, and that's stretching it.

    1. The problem is that the prestigious law schools need the unprestigious schools to emphasize their prestige. Being 16 of 203 is more prestigious than being 16 of 16.
      Even though if there were only 16 law schools the grads of the least prestigious law school would be far better off.

    2. @1032: What an excellent justification - not only for 203 law schools, but for HUNDREDS!

  5. Here's my take on the kudzu-like growth of legal clinics. First of all, back in the day, most law students had the opportunity to clerk for firms and obtain real experience in handling rudimentary legal matters, in learning how to conduct oneself professionally and in understanding the expectations and issues with working within a firm. The latter cannot be overemphasized. Now that there are significantly fewer clerking opportunities, law schools are attempting to fill this gap with clinics which only really provide students with a "clerk-lite" experience. The main problem with having a clinic experience in a super-niche area like animal rights, environmental law or, for example, the vaccine Injury clinic at GW is that it is a signal to the wide-majority of general civil practice law firms that your interest may not be coincide with the firm's practice. Clinic experience may not only not help you get a job; it can also hurt you. It is similar to getting an LLM in animal rights or environmental law. About 95% of the law firms do not practice in these areas and when applying to these firms, a specialized LLM or clinic experience can be the kiss of death.

    Further, the clinics are taking the clients that traditionally would go to solo or small firms, leaving the students once they graduate bereft of the very client-pool that they would have if they "would just hang out a shingle."