Last week, the National Jurist published an article by Ursula Furi-Perry on the implications of complacent professors.
She cited professors using questions from previous exams, and wrote, “Many law professors do work hard…But there are also too many who don’t: teaching too few classes, giving too few hours to students, or spending too few hours on instruction and curricula.”
Ms. Furi-Perry’s claim that there is an epidemic of sloth among law professors is mostly superficial, but more accurately, extraordinary misguided. I have spent decades as an academic, decades as a practicing lawyer, and am married to a trial court judge. There certainly are those in legal education who can rightfully be called lazy, but there are also those on the bench who, as practicing lawyers know, are lazy, and similarly there are numerous members of the Bar who, as both judges and lawyers know, are lazy.
This is nothing new and is not a characteristic that is particularly prevalent in any specific part of the legal profession or, perhaps, society-at-large.
Ms. Furi-Perry does, however, scratch around the periphery of the real and much more serious problem with legal education. It is based on a “Langdellian” model that has been embraced by the universities that house the law schools. Build a box, get a few academically inclined individuals with law degrees to teach students about the law, and rake in large amounts of tuition with low overhead. No need for the expensive plumbing, equipment, and facilities that must be provided or paid for in conjunction with other graduate programs such as those in the medical arts and sciences.
There is also no need in this model to teach students how to actually function in practice as lawyers, as the model only requires them to study the law and then gives them a certificate acknowledging that they have successfully completed that task.
The success of [being a professor] is measured in very large part by the pound, in terms of the pages and words churned out in law reviews and books that are a “must publish” each year, not the quality of the student from an employability perspective.
This is in sharp contrast to the medical professions which actually train their students to practice. Law schools and those that are familiar with them have come to this realisation and the current trend is now toward “practice ready” graduates and “outcome based” assessments. This will require universities to put some money back into the cash cows they call law schools, as it requires resources to be added to the development of oral and written skills courses and practice clinics that are made a part of the academic curriculum. Many law schools are already beginning to make strides in that regard and I suspect more and more will in the future.
I agree with Ms. Furi-Perry that the training of young lawyers has been suffering and is not what it should be. I do not, however, think this is being caused by law professors working less diligently than their counterparts in other parts of the profession. It comes from previous conceptions which pushed all the practice training on to the employer—which is saying more and more that it wants the finished product. Good for them, as many of us who take pride in teaching and consider it to be the foremost accomplishment (and who actually think people’s everyday problems and practice can be just as challenging as academics) will welcome completing the job. Think of it as a sloth revolution – it will happen slowly.
S. Michael Streib is a torts professor at Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh (and the father of Business Insider writer Lauren Streib).
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.