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A Mobblog on Legal Education

A Skeptical View of Education Reform

I’m not endorsing this post from a theory-loving prof outside of law schools, but I think it provides some good warnings about exactly how far we want to go in standardizing educational experiences:

These days, one of the more frustrating and tedious aspects of working in an institutional setting such as a secondary school, a college, or a highschool has been the shift to constant mechanisms of “quality control” that are implemented from year to year, semester to semester. What I have in mind are the constant calls to codify things such as student learning outcomes, assessment criteria, and curriculum across the body of educators. These mechanisms, in turn, lead to endless meetings, professional development seminars, and piles of paperwork that often have little or no connection to teaching or what really takes place in the classroom.

What we have in United States educational philosophies today is a shift towards a sort of “pedagogical Taylorism”, where it is assumed that education can be codified, instrumentalized, and quantified, such that assignments necessarily take on a generic and simplified structure– for this is what can easily be replicated –and where gradually these reforms have a morphogenetic effect on the classroom that feeds back on the classroom, giving form to what is taught, how it is taught, and how assignments are structured. In short, these reforms are molarizing machines, designed to create regularities in the Brownian motion of students and faculty, insuring that there is little change or deviation from a pre-delineated form.

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Playing the Game/Changing the Game

Now that both Mike and I have broached the possibility that economic change could radically affect the demand for attorneys in the future, let me say a little about the relationship between the law school and the market.

Optimistically, we might praise “market discipline” for law schools. Law firms want to reduce clients’ expenses; governments want to reduce taxpayers’ bills; to the extent that both employ lawyers, the better trained (and less expensively trained) their employees are, the better. There is a tension between quality and expense of training, but overall we trust the market to set plausible floors and ceilings on each.

Yet this is inevitably a partial perspective, because lawyers’ skills aren’t just bought and sold on the market–they shape what the market is and can be. Law schools must play the game of maximizing graduates’ ability to succeed in the market, but they also need to constantly remind them of their ability to shape and improve markets. A few thoughts on that below the fold.
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Too Many Law Schools?

Consider the existing law school as an institution, or as kind of community, and as faculty we are touched with the warm fuzzies.  I share many of those fuzzy thoughts, but my contrarian streak will out.  Law professors cannot construct or reconstruct legal education without accounting for its place in law and justice generally.  Do we have too many law schools, or the wrong kind altogether?Read More »Too Many Law Schools?