September 14, 2011
My Heroes Have Always Been Law Profs
Posted by Bill Callison

 Well – not really.  With a few exceptions, such as my great tax prof, Nort Steuben (Colorado) and my all-around grand champion, Owen Fiss (Yale).  But if a sycophantic, suck-eggs title got your attention, so be it.

 Today’s piece looks at some of the statements directed at all y’all law profs by one of your own (he ain’t mine), Paul Campos (Colorado), and provides one practitioner’s rejoinder.  First, to establish some bona fides.  I went to law school twice (J.D. from Colorado in 1982; LL.M. from Yale in 2000).  I have taught law school courses (tax, biz orgs, real estate planning, land use) at different institutions.  I have guest taught classes and seminars a number of other times.  I was once a practitioner-in-residence.  I write regularly for law reviews and other publications.  I participate in law reform activities (NCCUSL, ALI, local).  I recently served on a dean search committee (Colorado).  None of this is braggadocio, as I love doing it and it is part of what I have defined my lawyerly existence to include  (Here I stand – I can do no other).  But I have spent lots of time over the last 32 years in and around law schools, and with law professors – as a student, as a colleague, as a co-author, as a friend, as a sort-of-adversary, as a critic.  I know what I think, and I think I have a basis for my perspective.

 I am not going to respond to Camposian blogs concerning student debt, sustainability, lack of jobs, and other stuff.  I do note that students who graduated in May 2011 generally began law school in fall 2008, and applied for law school in winter/spring 2008.  No amount of disclosure could have prepared them (and their immediate predecessors) for the collapsing opportunities (at least short term) that awaited them.  Those who followed probably knew there was a mess.  None of this is to say that legal education does not need a period of introspection and reform – and here one can applaud some for calling the question.  But hysteria probably is not a solution, and muddling through probably is a decent alternative if one muddles quickly enough.

But, why pick on yourselves?  Campos writes:

 “[A]t the level of moral responsibility . . . law professors are scamming their students.”

 “I will reveal some of the dirty little secrets about the law school scam. . . .   [L]aw professors are paid absurdly large salaries for doing almost no real work. . . .”  [Note to self – “you too, Bill”.]

 “[The practice of] eaching material that one knows literally nothing about beyond what the casebook and the teaching manual have told the ‘professor’ – is one that is repeated in several thousand law school classrooms on every weekday between September and April every year.”

 “I know nothing about the formal legal material that I haven’t gleaned from reading the casebook and the teaching manual.  [Editorial aside:  No doubt this personal reflection is true.]  This is how much preparation I’m doing this summer for the classes I’ll teach this academic year.  None.  And that, I guaranty you is the median amount of time law professors have spent over the past three months preparing for [classes].”

“Since most law professors have no more than a superficial knowledge regarding the real subject matter of their classes, what professors do instead is teach legal doctrine. . . .  It’s not difficult to master.”

 “Law school faculties are full of ‘academic lawyers’ who are neither academics nor lawyers.  This guarantees that most of your classes will be a complete waste of time.”

 “Almost everything about traditional law teaching is easy. . . .  [Students] are happy enough to be fed a slightly glorified version of a commercial study guide, with occasional bits of intellectually farcical ‘policy analysis’ thrown in.”

 And so forth and so on.

 Fundamentally, Campos calls law professors (perhaps on the median, perhaps on the mean, perhaps somewhere else) lazy and stupid.  My initial reaction, having spent considerable time in his institution over the last year and in others over the last decades, is that the man must be confusing himself with others.  Narcissus looking into the pond and all that.  My second reaction is something along the lines of “I’ve been watching law schools for years, and I know bullshit when I see it.”  My third reaction is something like “The guy’s lucky that I’m not his dean.”  Confessions of ineptitude and nonchalance don’t ring very well.

My perspective – by and large (with some exceptions) the law professors I have known through the years are decent, smart, hard-working, and thoughtful people who genuinely care about and respect their students and their colleagues.  One really cannot ask for much more than this.  I have watched them teach; I have watched them prepare themselves to teach; I have watched them impart a sense of the ethics of dispassion, open-mindedness and hard work to their students; I have watched them struggle with difficult intellectual assignments; I have heard them talk coherently about difficult and important subjects; I have read a considerable amount of their writings; I have written with them; I have served on legislative drafting and other committees with them; I have watched them participate in, work with and teach to the organized bar; I have watched them apply expertise and real knowledge in myriad ways; I have seen lazy and dumb ones; and I have seen extremely hard-working and smart ones (will the real Bruce Ackerman please stand up?).  But about the last thing I would do is pigeon-hole very many of the many law profs I know into the stylized caricature that Campos constructs.   I wager that extends well beyond the subset that I know.  Period.  End of story.

 A subsequent blog will discuss theory, practice, art and beauty - another area well worth considering by people smarter than I am.  My next blog will consider “one person partnerships.”

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