Thank you Brent Newton – American Legal Education is Worthless

By Randazza and DeVoy

Brent Newton, an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown, wrote a law review article about how professors writing law review articles is a waste of time. The article, Preaching What They Don’t Practice: Why Law Faculties’ Preoccupation with Impractical Scholarship and Devaluation of Practical Competencies Obstruct Reform in the Legal Academy, is actually worth reading … which is rather unusual for a law review article.

my thesis is that 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. (source)

That is a very polite and professional way of saying what I have been saying since the inception of this blog — law professors are a bunch of worthless gasbags running a ponzi scheme, and most (not all) should be dragged out into the street and have beehives shoved up their asses for the part they play in financially ruining thousands of kids a year — to say nothing for the destruction they help wreak upon the legal profession, which in turn leaves thousands of desperate lawyers who pull every manner of legal stunt to simply stay alive. Parasites breeding parasites. That is what most law professors are.

But back to Newton. His article is absolute blasphemy in the legal academy, and probably means that he will forever remain the sneered-at adjunct. I got that a lot when I was one — oh, you’re just an adjunct, not a professor.

Newton notes that adjuncts are the lowest of the low:

At the bottom of the order of law faculty are adjunct professors, who generally are treated like nobodies by the regular law faculty.

I am happy to report that this was not my experience when I was an adjunct at Barry. In fact, I was treated very well there by all my colleagues. But, once off that campus, especially when exchanging ideas with other “law professors” and particularly in the blawgosphere, that was the refuge they would run to during a vicious pwning.

Like the Indian caste system, a comparison Newton makes in his article, the academy delegates the “dirty work” to an immobile class of practitioners, adjuncts and other non-tenure track faculty.  Beyond schools’ Legal Research and Writing (LRW) curriculum, clinical programs remain the last bastion of useful hands-on experience in meeting deadlines, solving new problems and managing client expectations.

Despite providing some of the most value-added experiences most law students will have during their legal education, clinical professors lack the ability to attain tenure, or even full the same privileges and status of full tenure track faculty.  Even considering the value provided by clinical coursework, they remain optional at all but a few schools like Washington & Lee, which have adopted an intense practical curriculum.  This isn’t merely harmful for new lawyers, but potentially disastrous for their clients.

So let’s see what Newton shares some data with us about the experience levels of these “law professors” who sneer at adjuncts.

The amount of prior practical experience differed significantly by tier. For instance, for the schools in tier one, the median was 1 year and the mean was 1.92 years; 46.8% of the entry-level tenure-track professors hired by these schools since 2000 had no prior practical experience. Conversely, for the schools in tier four, the median was 6 years and the mean was 7.58 years; 85.8% of those professors had some amount of prior practical experience.

In other words, the higher ranked the school, the more worthless the professors — the less they actually know about the job they are teaching you to do. Next time someone makes fun of you for attending a TTT, maybe you should wipe the floor with them with the knowledge your TTT law professor gave you, while your top tier counterparts were learning from someone who was hired most likely on the basis of their skin color, gender, and how they managed to whine about both in law review articles.

Also contributing to this worthlessness is the over-academization of the legal academy.  A top J.D. isn’t enough anymore, and often needs to be supplemented with a Ph.D. – if not supplanted by one.

In the late 1980s, five percent of full-time law professors had Ph.D.s.  By the end of the twentieth century, 10.4 percent of new tenure-track hires had Ph.D’s (13.4% at “top 25 schools”). Just a decade later, by 2010, that percentage had grown significantly, particularly at the highly ranked schools. My own study of a representative sample of entry-level tenure-track professors hired between 2000-09 (excluding clinicians, LRW professors, and other “practical” faculty) revealed that 18.9 percent possessed Ph.D.’s in addition to or in lieu of a law degree. Professors with Ph.D.’s constituted 35.5 percent of such tenure-track faculty members hired since 2000 by the first ten schools in tier one of the USNWR rankings.

While a Ph.D. is an impressive investment of time – quality varies widely outside of the top programs in each field, and whether it’s worthwhile depends on individual levels of funding – it doesn’t help create better lawyers.  It doesn’t necessarily breed better faculty, either.  Just look who you get when you hire like that! (But, in all fairness, the best law professor I ever had didn’t have a JD at all — he had a Ph.D. only!)

For example, teaching law students about game theory is all well and good within the ivory tower, but it doesn’t help them, and may even hurt, if it’s done at the expense of skills like writing and critical thinking.  Those skills matter a hell of a lot more than being able to properly graph the probabilities frontier of settlement negotiations in a $35,000 case.  Try explaining that bill to your client.

Newton realizes that this characteristic, along with the homogeneity of the same ten schools producing most of the nation’s legal academy, creates a certain feedback loop.  Because only the top students from top schools are hired into the academy, judged by their experience in snagging elite clerkships and publishing in the highest ranked law reviews, there is scant room for practical experience.  Yet the system persists for a few reasons.  The first is economic: Fundamentally exclusive credentials, such as Court of Appeals or Supreme Court clerkships, are held by a vanishingly small group, and thus greatly valued by the academy.  The second is a matter of value justification, as faculty members who went to Harvard and published in the Harvard Law Review feel their escutcheon would be tarnished by hiring someone with lesser credentials, the legal academy’s equivalent to identifying with lepers as equals.

Even in the publishing of Newton’s article, which is forthcoming in the University of South Carolina Law Review, the class bias of legal academia is on display.  Like law schools, even law reviews are ranked.  Though the South Carolina Law Review outperforms the school’s US News ranking, it’s blasphemy for a piece as important as Newton’s not to be in the highest ranked publication it could have conceivably been in.  This is especially true as the traditional walk-of-the-penguins path from earning good grades in law school to being an associate at a well-heeled firm vanishes for many students, leaving them to rely on skills they never developed or had any idea they’d need.  But, surely, whatever critical theory shit about how federal land use law displaces quadriplegic Inuit lesbians from their native homes that took the place of Newton’s article in a more visible journal will be important – essential, really – in the history of legal thought.

We must thank Newton for making this point for all the reasons stated above.  Based on my experience in practice, where you go to school doesn’t mean much except what firms interviewed you at OCI.  While every school produces bad lawyers, the upper crust of legal education has no monopoly on creating good ones.

More importantly, the lack of vital skills afflicting new lawyers needs to be brought to all current and prospective students’ attention so they can take clinical coursework and ameliorate the gaps in their training.  Knowing that such deficiencies exist is the first battle in the war of legal education.  Too many law students assume that going to law school and passing the bar exam will be sufficient to practice, and the schools’ professors and administrators – themselves woefully inexperienced – do not do enough to correct this misconception.

Finally, this is an issue that affects all of us.  Tenured faculty live a life of symposia and leisurely thinking on the backs of the serfs, much like the Roman elites who drank wine all day and had orgies at night while the masses toiled and the empire crumbled.  Although individual students make the promise to pay $40,000 each year to subsidize this nonsense, and at 8.5% interest, we’re all paying for it now that student lending has become a government function — both for the principal and the inevitable default on junk loans taken out for nothing of value.

This should be the beginning of a slow clap for Brent Newton, and his gumption to write a piece that unites various threads that have been the zeitgeist of practitioners for years.  That the legal academy does not care to hear it is their own fault, and done at its peril.

19 Responses to Thank you Brent Newton – American Legal Education is Worthless

  1. Allan says:

    I definitely thought the best “practical legal skills” came from the adjuncts I had at Barry (never took your class but your advice was given at Ale House and online). Most of the full-time Profs, I thought, spent some time talking about the practice of law based on their experience, which collectively ran the gamut.

    Regarding those at higher-ranked schools, I knew a student that transferred to UF after her 1L year and wasn’t happy with the faculty there as she had been at Barry. The “prestige” was probably nice, but I know plenty of Barry grads that have great careers now because they were better lawyers than the UF, FSU, UM, Stetson, etc., grads.

    Now, before law schools, didn’t people just do an apprenticeship and then were lawyers? Seems that for whatever reason, the apprenticeship has gone by the wayside for law schools *cough*money*cough* and that’s what is missing and really needed. I guess firms don’t want law grads to be ready to tackle starting up a solo practice/partnership/big firm/etc., and compete with their firm.

    Who knows….

  2. Heh, I bet you got more out of drinking with me at the Ale House than I got from most of my classes at Georgetown!

    I think apprenticeship should be mandatory. And those “no experience – all theory” professors should have jobs — they should just be in philosophy departments — not law schools.

    • evrenseven says:

      At my TTT, I took courses in technology license drafting, patent prosecution (patent drafting), my copyrights professor was a practicing attorney who came late several times because court ran long, my patents prof, also my trademarks prof, was a 35 year patent practitioner who also taught my boss 25 years ago… BUT… my Property professor, a complete hack, spent SIX WEEKS on the rule against perpetuities and the rule in shelly’s case and nonsense like that. Oh, and my torts professor is in federal pen on kiddie porn charges. You take the good with the bad.

      PS, wow, I didn’t know you taught at Barry. Actually, I didn’t know there was such a thing as Barry. Apparently, no one outside the Orlando metro area knows either.

      • Yeah, I always wear my Barry T-shirt and my BARRY polo shirt. I’m more proud of having taught there than attending Gtown. I get a lot of “who the fuck is Barry?” questions.

        • Allan says:

          ^ The only reason I knew about Barry was because of someone I grew up with in Orlando called me in ’03 to tell me about it.

  3. David says:

    “Too many law students assume that going to law school and passing the bar exam will be sufficient to practice, and the schools’ professors and administrators – themselves woefully inexperienced – do not do enough to correct this misconception.”

    As a recent graduate, it is really not law students. After the first couple of years you realize that even in the class taught by the most well-intentioned professors that you won’t know enough to go out on your own and practice law. But, what’s frustrating is that your family who now sees you job hunting frequently asks why you don’t just get out there and start your own practice. Ugh.

    “I think apprenticeship should be mandatory. And those ‘no experience – all theory’ professors should have jobs — they should just be in philosophy departments — not law schools.”

    As to apprenticeships—I agree practical experience would be nice to have. The problem is, who is going to do it? The system was set up for you to bust your ass accomplishing little in law school and you would learn the practical side of law at your first job. Well, what is left for those that didn’t get a job? Commit malpractice while we try and cobble together how to do something? Career services offices at my alma mater don’t know what to do. They just did what they’ve always done and had a couple of lunch meetings with students to try and figure out how many people had jobs and asked if we’ve “networked” or “looked online.” Yeah. Thanks.

    So after the rant, Marc, who do you think should be the ones to step up to the plate?

    P.S. I went to a school that focused on practical skills—at least they mentioned it every time they could. I learned some things that helped me in part time jobs that I’ve had—especially when writing patent applications, but, admitted by a professor who taught a patent drafting class: we certainly didn’t have the experience to go out and help a client yet.

    • Who should step up to the plate? Take a look at how doctors are made.

      • David says:

        No, I get that. But the problem obviously requires systemic change. As it stands now doctors are given placements with hospitals by their medical schools—and the pay is commensurate with little to no experience. Do you see firms changing their models in order to work with law schools in this manner?

        • It might benefit the firms to do so. What might also help is if we stop subsidizing the do-nothings and know-nothings in law schools — I think that student loans should be like business loans. You can default on them, but you’ve got to come and convince the bank that you’re a good investment.

          • evrenseven says:

            Well, in Med school, you don’t get in unless there’s an internship for you on the other end. No ifs, ands or butts. There simply is only a number of seats in all med schools that equals the number of internships in 4 years. Also, the MCAT is far, FAR tougher relatively than the LSAT. A great way I heard it described is that the MCAT decides *IF* you’re going to med school. the LSAT decides *where* you go to law school. and it’s probably Barry.

            (sorry can’t help the Barry snipes)

          • Dayum! Whats with the Barry hate?

            I see nothing wrong with a system that admits anyone to law school who wants to get a JD, but I think a JD ought to only be one part of a much bigger puzzle when it comes to getting a bar license.

          • J DeVoy says:

            see nothing wrong with a system that admits anyone to law school who wants to get a JD, but I think a JD ought to only be one part of a much bigger puzzle when it comes to getting a bar license.

            That’s fine, but since you’re not going to restrict inputs, make it much less expensive so that the opportunity cost isn’t so great for people who pursue the JD.

  4. natejcr says:

    I wrote about this yesterday on my blog Alter-Legal. I don’t buy Newton’s solution though, law schools will be the last to reform. Admissions are high and the ABA isn’t going to push for “practical skills” as a requirement. Even the newly tenured faculty attempt to shine light on the issue they are likely going to be hammered but senior colleagues. Best solution for now – avoid law school.

    • A good solution might be for one state bar, any state bar, to say “enough” and to require apprenticeship and to require that the law school pass ITS accreditation instead of the ABA’s — then simply kill off the ABA entirely, as a bunch of do nothing fucks.

      It would be mega funny if you could graduate from Harvard, yet not be eligible to sit for the Massachusetts bar exam, but you could sit for it if you graduated from Mass School of Law in Andover.

  5. chris92101 says:

    I think a 3rd year apprenticeship program would be most appropriate, rather than merely a 3rd year of mostly classes that fail to prepare law grads adequately for the workplace. Law Schools should partner with law firms and government agencies to funnel graduates into 3L apprenticeships with these places, so when they graduate they will have practical skills. This would also lead to a lot of these places hiring law students who apprentice with them. Sort of like the “residency” requirement for doctors. The problem is, it’s unfair for students to pay the law school during the 3rd year to work somewhere for free, and law schools want to keep getting paid for that mostly useless 3rd year. Also, there probably are not enough slots for apprenticeships at agencies or firms for all the legal grads being pumped out. Perhaps instead some sort of 3L clinic year, where law students work full time helping out their communities and learning practical legal skills on a full time basis.

  6. Also, there probably are not enough slots for apprenticeships at agencies or firms for all the legal grads being pumped out

    Exactly, which would mean that graduating from law school would guarantee you a JD, but not the ability to even sit for the bar, let alone pass it.

    You’d find the cost of legal education would drop. Schools would fire the useless shits who don’t know fuck all about practicing law — because no firm would want to bring in an apprentice who spent law school listening to crybabies talking about vegetarianism and its relationship to dialectical materialism in a gentrified gender stratometricism and the law.

    You would have the marketplace demanding ready-to-roll graduates. You would have students seriously reconsidering whether going to Yale is a good idea… well, unless Yale changed its teaching methods.

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