I recently received a copy of an interesting and some would say provocative (at least by law school standards) forthcoming article from a former professor, Brent Newton, entitled Preaching What They Don’t Practice: Why Law Faculties’ Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy. Here’s the abstract:
In response to decades of complaints that American law schools have failed to prepare students to practice law, several prominent and respected authorities on legal education, including the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, recently have proposed significant curricular and pedagogical changes in order to bring American legal education into the twenty-first century. It will not be possible to implement such proposed curricular and pedagogical reforms if law schools continue their trend of primarily hiring and promoting tenure-track faculty members whose primary mission is to produce theoretical, increasingly interdisciplinary scholarship for law reviews rather than prepare students to practice law. Such impractical scholars, because they have little or no experience in the legal profession and further because they have been hired primarily to write law review articles rather than primarily to teach, lack the skill set necessary to teach students how to become competent, ethical practitioners. The recent economic recession, which did not spare the legal profession, has made the complaints about American law schools’ failure to prepare law students to enter the legal profession even more compelling; law firms no longer can afford to hire entry-level attorneys who lack the basic skills required to practice law effectively. This essay proposes significant changes in both faculty composition and law reviews aimed at enabling law schools to achieve the worthy goals of reformists such as the Carnegie Foundation.
My translation: law schools largely fail to produce graduates who are competent lawyers upon graduation because the professors who teach them (a) are hired to publish academic writing, not teach practical skills, (b) don’t receive any particular incentive or training in becoming better teachers, (c) have relatively little experience in the legal profession before becoming professors.
It’s a debate likely to be riddled with semantics and caveats. I took a number of courses from extremely skilled and experienced legal practitioners, including Prof. Newton, who, when I took his Criminal Procedure course, was a veteran federal public defender who had just argued a case before the U.S. Supreme Court. It’s not an argument about what’s available, but about what is valued and incentivized in our law schools.
The core of Newton’s proposal is what he terms the “teaching professor” a tenure-track professorship focused on practical training.
To enable this level of teaching competence, a teaching professor would have a significant amount of meaningful practical experience (typically a decade or more) and would have earned a reputation as a competent, ethical practitioner before joining a law school‟s full-time faculty. Such teaching professors also typically would have first proven themselves as effective law teachers while serving as adjuncts or visiting professors. Teaching professors would be expected to publish legal scholarship but not to the same degree as research professors. Moreover, the type of publications expected of teaching professors for promotion and tenure would be practical works, such as doctrinal law review articles and legal treatises.
I commend Prof. Newton’s article to your perusal. In the meantime, I’ll make a more modest proposal – start with the faculty profiles on the law school website. What does it emphasize? On most you’ll find: name, degrees, research interests, courses taught, a curriculum vitae, lists of publications. The emphasis is on pedigree and publication. Why not include some items of more interest to students? Perhaps have a profile picture taken sometime this decade, the past five years of student evaluation scores, audio or video of recent presentations, and audio or video of recent class discussions.
What’s the likelihood of any of these reforms succeeding? I’ll just note that of the Deans of the three law schools who have implemented significant curricular reforms that I’m aware of – Vanderbilt, Northwestern and Washington and Lee – none remain at the helm.
I happened to see on Yahoo Answers a question I had always wondered about myself – why are there three ducks on the seal of the University of Houston Law Center? So I did a little research. According to the Law Center website:
The Law Center seal includes three martlets above an opened text inscribed with “LEX,” the Latin word for law. Martlets, symbolizing peace and deliverance, also appear in the University of Houston seal – which in turn is drawn from the coat of arms of General Sam Houston who claimed descent from Sir Hugh of Padavan, an
A case that came through the University of Houston Law Center’s Immigration Clinic, Carachuri-Rosendo v. Holder, will be argued tomorrow in the U.S. Supreme Court. I’m told that several of the clinic students who worked on the case were able to make it up to the Court to watch a culmination of their efforts. The work in the clinics was headed up by Geoff Hoffman, a faculty supervisor in the University of Houston Immigration Clinic who serves as co-counsel, with oral argument to be handled by Sri Srinivasan, a veteran before the court who argued before the court earlier this year in another case with Houston ties – Skilling v. U.S.. Two former clinic attorneys – Anne Chandler ’98 and Tom Perkinson ’00 – assisted in lower court proceedings.
The issue was summarized well in the New York Times this morning, Minor Drug Cases, Major Trouble for Immigrants. As presented to the court:
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, a lawful permanent resident who has been “convicted” of an “aggravated felony” is ineligible to seek cancellation of removal. 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(a)(3). The courts of appeals have divided 4-2 on the following question presented by this case:
Whether a person convicted under state law for simple drug possession (a federal law misdemeanor) has been “convicted” of an “aggravated felony” on the theory that he could have been prosecuted for recidivist simple possession (a federal law felony), even though there was no charge or finding of a prior conviction in his
prosecution for possession.
University of Houston Law Dean Ray Nimmer announced today that former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, now a partner in the New York office of Houston-based Bracewell and Giuliani, will deliver the commencement address at our law school commencement.
Although a commencement speaker doesn’t substantively add to the education you just received, it’s one of the few opportunities to celebrate your accomplishments with your family and it’s nice when it’s somebody your grandma can recognize.
Commencement speakers seem, for some reason, to have become magnets for controversy in recent years. One UHLC alum has declared herself ‘humiliated’ by the choice of Giuliani as commencement speaker, citing a litany of personal and professional failings. Now I wouldn’t nominate Mr. Giuliani for sainthood, but nor would I construe his failings – whatever they might be – as a reflection on the law school. I simply don’t think that selecting someone as a commencement speaker is an institutional ratification of everything they’ve done or said. I honestly don’t think it reflects on the institution at all. Some could fairly disagree with me on that I’m sure. I’ll be sitting in that audience, so I’m mostly hopeful that he will have something interesting and/or useful to communicate. I’ve found that people who have experienced failure often have more interesting and useful things to say than those who haven’t. I remain enthused.
So what should be the criteria of a commencement speaker? As I stated above, recognition by my grandmother is necessary but not entirely sufficient criteria. For a law school I would suggest a commencement speaker be (a) recognized for their career as an attorney, (b) distinguished for leadership and service in government and/or community, with (c) something valuable or useful to say to a group of graduating law students and their families. Giuliani clerked for a federal judge, served as Associate Attorney General in the Justice Dept. and U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, Mayor of New York City and a Presidential candidate. His legal and political career is as active and varied as they come. Will he have something valuable to say? We’ll see.
It also got me wondering what other schools have lined up for commencement day. It’s not entirely clear which law schools have separate ceremonies as they are with us, but here’s what I could track down: