With law school scam blogs being in the blogospheric news these days, I wanted to offer a few thoughts.
1. In my view, Paul Campos’s blog has been useful. If Campos had written his blog using his real name, few would have paid attention. By hiding his identity, and by claiming that he hid it to avoid repercussions, Campos created the impression that he was taking a very courageous and daring step. That impression is what made the blog newsworthy, and that newsworthiness led to press coverage. That press coverage generated eyeballs, and it led to people talking about the issues. Campos’s expressed fear of repercussions was basically false, but his plan to generate attention worked quite well. If you think that the law schools could benefit from more discussion these issues — as I do — then that’s a good thing on the whole.
2. The law school scam blogs often overlook the important difference between a law school’s administration and its teaching faculty, and their arguments sometimes miss the mark because of it. In my view, the blogs have some legitimate complaints about the lack of transparency at some law schools; of the way scholarships are structured; and the way tuition is set. Those are important issues. We should talk more about them. But for the most part, decisions about those issues are made by the law school administration instead of the teaching faculty.
Students may not be fully aware of the difference between the administration and teaching faculty, but it’s a pretty important one. If you’ll let me paint with a very broad brush, the Dean and Associate Deans run the law school and determine the school’s policies while the professors teach their classes, grade their exams, and write their articles. The kinds of law school policies attacked by the scam blogs are mostly in the realm of law school administration. The professors who make up the teaching faculty usually learn about these things when they read them in the New York Times or Above the Law just like everybody else. That doesn’t mean the professors should escape criticism. But there’s a big difference between the guilt of creating a bad policy and the guilt of not learning that the policy exists where you work.
3. Building on (2) above, I think the scam blogs should see professors as natural allies on these issues instead of natural enemies. Some of the blogs envision professors as enemies because the professors seem to have a sweet life and students aren’t finding jobs. They reason that professors are scamming students by getting their sweet life based on the students’ suffering. But many of the students are suffering right now mostly because of the weak economy for lawyers. The professors don’t control that economy today any more than they controlled it five years ago when the economy for lawyers was booming.
More broadly, I think there’s less of a gap between the interests of the professors and the students than the blogs imagine. A lot of the professors share the same concerns that the students do. They want law school to be the best value, and to give the best education, and to train students to get the best careers. They’re frustrated by the status quo, and they want to they are open to new ways of doing business. Setting up a bogus faculty-vs-students narrative draws eyeballs to a blog. But it also alienates the group that is most able and willing to enact reforms that could actually improve things.