Sunday, December 02, 2012

Yet more on Larry Mitchell's sunny op-ed on why law school is a good idea.

On another blog (Law School Survival Manual), I've spent a bit of time ruminating over just what in Larry Mitchell's op-ed rubbed me the wrong way.  (See here.)  Other folks are saying the same thing, often in better ways (take a gander at the updates to my post for two such examples, and to the postings on Inside the Law School Scam (starting here). 

I guess what frustrates me most is the sense that decanal groupthink is trying to wish away a lot of the problems that face legal education.  There were many, many kudos to the Mitchell op-ed on one of the deans' listservs.  If those kudos had been from the very top law schools, I'd have understood.  Law degrees from Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and other such schools are likely to be exceptionally good investments.  (After all, I benefit greatly from my degree from Stanford.*)

But when good, but not elite, schools are making their case for law school being a good investment, they can't just trot out the "we train you to think!" and "law is a lifetime career!" arguments.  I don't think that the first of those arguments applies just to law schools (pretty much any good education will train someone to think well).  And I don't think that the "law is a lifetime career" theory works when a law graduate can't get a first law job within a reasonable time.  The "you can use a law degree in other careers" argument is true, of course, but just because someone can use a legal education in other fields doesn't mean that spending six figures to get that degree is always a good idea.

I'm as proud of legal education as every other law dean is,** but I want students to enter law school with their eyes open.  (I also want law schools to provide applicants with accurate data so that they can make good choices about whether to attend law school.)

Data + realistic expectations = good choices.
Assertions + wishful thinking = a disaster in the making.

* Although, to be fair, my degree from Rice is nearer and dearer to my heart, but that's probably true of most folks' feelings about their undergraduate degrees.
** Even though I'm just an interim dean.

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