Comment #1: Why I (Don't) Like Law Profs
This is a great comment, posted recently in response to my Blogiday post:
Law school professors really overrate themselves. At the end of the day, they are nothing more than liberal arts professors who just spend their lives writing law review articles that nobody reads and who develop "theories" that are rarely if ever, used in real world practice. Do you honestly feel like your teaching leads to any PRACTICAL outcome?
Ouch. Somebody is clearly goading me, so let me rise to the bait and respond in two different ways.
My first response is "Yes, I honestly do feel that my teaching leads to practical outcomes." Otherwise I would not do it. If I wanted a career path that was a scam, it would be a scam that made a lot more money.
Second, one of my favorite sayings is, "All generalizations are bad." (Think about it.) To suggest that all law profs are "liberal arts professors" engaged in useless pursuits lumps the good with the bad, both at law schools and in the liberal arts. The implication that some academicians don't impart value, and therefore all of them are useless, is a fallacy of logic. It also smacks of knee-jerk anti-intellectualism, whether intentional or not. That sounds harsh, perhaps, but don't forget that I practiced law for 9 years and served as a judicial clerk too. I have enjoyed both law practice and teaching, and from my first-hand experience I see significant value in both. I am in academia by choice, not by default.
My point is not that you should love all law profs and hold them in awe. Rather, my point is that some do impart value. How many, and how often, is the more appropriate point to debate.
Comment #2: Toxic Torts (and Contracts, and Crim Law, and . . .)
One reader pointed to a panel at the 2007 annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) titled aptly, if not succintly, "High risk/high stakes student problems: New approaches inside and outside the classroom for addressing substance abuse, gambling and other self-destructive student behaviors." That session (discussed in a recent article in Inside Higher Ed) addressed how law school's "mixture of lofty expectations and a high-stress environment" can lead to mental stress and substance abuse. It's an article worth reading, especially now that fall 2006 grades have been turned in at many schools.
Much of the problem is that students are officially or unofficially ranked against one another in law school. Most of them have been at the top of the curve their entire lives, from kindergarten on. Inevitably, however, there is a further shaking out in law school, and some people used to being at the top of the class no longer are. That is hard to deal with.
This is a topic I will return to later, but in the meantime, thanks to this reader for the link to this article.
Comment #3: Moral and Practical Law Schools
Another (or perhaps the same?) anonymous commenter points to another article in Inside Higher Ed on the subject of "moral and practical law schools." That's an interesting topic, since many people believe law schools are neither. It's a subject of interest to me, and I agree with this commenter that this is recommended reading for anyone interested in the subject.
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So now that I am caught up on my mail, in my next post I will provide some observations on exam-taking, since I just finished grading hundreds of essay exam questions. This won't be a gripe session. It will be an opportunity for me to set forth some thoughts on what works and does not work on law school essay exams.