Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Legal Academia

As someone who is considering a career as a legal academic, I am becoming more and more familiar (and vexed) with the path to the lectern. It is certainly an odd route, and one that encompasses at least one major contradiction. There is an obvious and systemic prejudice against practitioners, except insofar as they may serve as adjuncts of clinical faculty. Contra, there is an equally strong requirment that prospective professors practice law at one of the big firms in a big city, but for no more than four or five years. In case, you doubt this, take a look at the cv of any junior faculty member- nowhere on there is the word partner, but there is practice "experience."

What is confounding about this is that to those familiar with big firm practice, there really is not much practice going on in the first few years. You are essentially Mr. or Ms. Due Diligence. Maybe after a couple of years, you might do some real lawyering, but just as you are getting your hands dirty, you jump to academia. So why do future faculty members not just go the route similar to the induction process in other academic fields- doctoral studies, post-doc fellowship (maybe), gypsy scholar, etc. Because it is hard to buy the argument that they practice in order to gain experience that will be helpful in the classroom. If that was the case, they would practice for more than a couple of years and there would be a lot more experienced attorneys on our law faculties.

It would seem that this path is a helpful propaganda tool for legal academe. Despite growing numbers of graduate type students in law schools, the vast majority of people are there in furtherance of a professional goal. And, if law faculties were devoid of folks who had some, however little, practice experience would undermine its standing as a professional school.

But maybe there is a better way. Law schools could maintain a professional school image by increasing their clinical offerings (as many schools have done in the past twenty years) while eliminating the requirement that non-clinical faculty need their five years at Skadden Arps. The route would still include a prestiguous clerkship, but instead of the brief foray into practice, why not replace it with either a JSD or LLM and a requirement for more original research and publications (much like other academic fields).

Of course, this is just one person's opinion. And my bias is probably quite obvious in that I really see no need to do the big firm thing for a few years in order to be a good law professor. I would prefer that my scholarship speak for itself.


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