Thursday, January 03, 2008

The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty

As I write this post I am sitting in my hotel room in New York, where I am attending the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) annual meeting. The theme of this year's meeting is "Reassessing Our Roles as Scholars and Educators in Light of Change." There certainly is a lot of change occurring at American law schools these days, and that topic is a key focus of this blog.

Because of my interest in this subject, I am speaking at the conference on a panel sponsored by the AALS Section on New Law Professors, entitled New Law Faculty as Catalysts for Change. The title of my piece is The Comparative and Absolute Advantages of Junior Law Faculty in the Classroom: Implications for Teaching and the Future of American Law Schools. The paper can be accessed online from my Social Science Research Network (SSRN) page here.

This piece is actually a blend of two areas of interest to me: international trade theory, and law school teaching theory and practice. My piece, as the name indicates, applies the concepts of comparative and absolute advantage to the subject of law school teaching, to see what they might tell us about how junior faculty can be used to improve law school teaching and how we might rethink law school teaching overall. Here's an abstract of the article:

In the ongoing debate about how to improve law school teaching, there is a general consensus that law schools should do more to train junior faculty members how to teach. While this may be the case, this consensus inadvertently leads to an implicit assumption that is not true—that in all facets of law teaching, junior faculty are at a disadvantage compared to senior faculty. In fact, there are aspects of law teaching for which junior faculty can be better suited than their senior colleagues. This Article reviews scholarship concerning law teaching and identifies three teaching factors that generally favor junior law faculty: generational proximity to the law school student body; recency of law practice experience as junior practitioners; and lower susceptibility to the problem of “conceptual condensation”—extreme depth of subject matter knowledge that makes it difficult to see subjects from the students’ perspective.

This Article employs the economic concepts of (a) economies of scale or productive efficiency and (b) absolute and comparative advantage to suggest how these junior faculty advantages could be harnessed to improve law school teaching. With respect to productive efficiency, it is suggested that greater intra-faculty dialogue can increase a law faculty’s output of effective teaching. Currently, senior faculty members often provide assistance or advice to junior faculty in areas of senior faculty expertise or advantage—such as depth of knowledge in a course’s subject matter—but this is largely a one-way flow of information. However, if junior faculty were also to provide insight and advice to senior faculty regarding areas of junior faculty advantage, the quality of law school teaching might be significantly enhanced. Junior-senior faculty dialogue might be promoted through a variety of means, including faculty workshops and even perhaps teaching reviews of senior faculty by junior faculty.

With respect to the concepts of absolute and comparative advantage, this Article suggests that law school teaching could be improved through the specialization of teaching functions. Instead of professors individually teaching separate courses, professors might coordinate their teaching (that is, team-teach) across a number of courses in the law school curriculum, as a means to more effectively harness the respective strengths (and minimize the respective weaknesses) of junior and senior faculty in the classroom. Through the leveraging of junior faculty advantages, overall law school teaching might be significantly improved. This Article concludes by discussing the implications of these recommendations for law school culture in general and for the legal profession as a whole.

(Note: If you are not already a user of SSRN you will need to register to use SSRN, but the registration is easy, and it's free. For those unfamiliar with SSRN, it's an online network through which scholars distribute and share up-to-the-minute research. It's a great and free resource for scholarship in the social sciences.)

Also on the panel with me are Emily Hughes of Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, Geoff Rapp of The University of Toledo College of Law, and Ben Madison of Regent Law School. Moderating the panel is Michael Schwartz of Washburn University School of Law. Having him as moderator is excellent, since he is a leading scholar in the area of law school teaching and an all-around good guy.

I will post more about the panel after it occurs. In the meantime, I welcome any thoughts or input about the article.

1 comment:

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