Law School lessons

NUI Maynooth logo, via the NUIM website.A few weeks ago, noted US Constitutional scholar Erwin Chemerinsky (wikipedia), currently Alston & Bird Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science at Duke, was hired as the founding Dean of Donald Bren School of Law at the University of California, Irvine; then he was “unhired” (here’s Chemerinsky’s own take on that, from the LA Times); and quite quickly re-hired.

I’ve just recently discovered that Paul Caron on Tax Law Prof used this flap “to generate and publicize the best ideas about reforming legal education from some of the leading thinkers in the law school world”. He and Bill Henderson asked various legal luminaries to give 250-word answers to this question:

What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?

They got forty responses, gathered together here, and well worth a read they are too (don’t just take my word for it; the Chronicle of Higher Education thinks so too (hat tip: Tax Prof Blog)).

I wonder whether any of those ideas will surface at the forthcoming (second annual) Legal Education Symposium hosted by UCC in December (already discussed here on this blog)? Or whether they will find a home in the new Law School in the University of York in the UK (now hiring)? Or whether they will feed into the University of Maynooth’s new degrees in Business and Law and Law and Arts? The Centre for Business, Management and Innovation Studies has already hired one lawyer and has advertised for another (see here and here and here). Will York or Maynooth follow some of the advice for Chemerinsky and abolish tenure or tie it to teaching, focus the curriculum on practice in one or some or all of the years, promote public understanding of the law, or build strengths in interdisciplinary teaching and scholarship? Just don’t puff the schools too much.

Update (22 October 2007): On a related note, not only did I slip the Chronicle link in up there as a bonus, but Tax Prof Blog also points to Jim Chen’s Simple Wisdom summary of Scott Greenfield’s suggestions about how professors, students, and law schools can make law school better: professors should do more to engage the students; students should stop whining, grow up and learn what they need to know to be lawyers; and law schools should train lawyers to fulfill a function in society, to represent entities in their dealings or litigation to prevent society from tyranny or anarchy. He concludes:

This pressure on law professors to produce scholarly works has two bad outcomes. First, it means that law professors no longer care about teaching, for there is no reward to being a good teacher. This failure is clearly reflected in law students’ complaints about law school. Second, it has reduced law professors to fashion designers, moving hemlines up and down every year, just so they have something to say.

I venture to guess that no law professor will invent cold fusion or a cure for the common cold. Few will contribute anything of lasting substance to society in this year’s law review. But you could make a monumental contribution by preparing young men and women to go out into the world with the skills, knowledge, ethics and willingness to zealously represent people. Each of these students will touch the lives of many people, and if well trained, make their lives a little bit better. Law School can and should be a part of this. …

And now, I have to get back to finishing my views on this year’s fashions for an impatiently waiting editor :-)