Yesterday I attended a panel presentation at the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools on the subject of “Law Schools and Their Critics.” The panel was moderated by Lauren Robel, the AALS President, and the panelists included Deborah Rhode of Stanford, Bill Henderson of Indiana, Gene Nichol of UNC, and Bryant Garth of Southwestern. This panel was only one of several at the AALS meeting on criticisms of law schools, and the panel was very well attended. My guess is that there were about 125-150 professors in the audience.
The most interesting aspect of the panel was that most of the panelists — and if the Q&A is representative, most of the audience — appeared to agree with the basic gist of the criticisms of law schools advocated by Brian Tamanaha and others. The closest I heard to defenses of the status quo was a panelist’s argument that although law schools have problems, caution is warranted in enacting changes in light of the uncertainty of the future. Panelists also distanced themselves from the suggestion of some critics that faculties have acted in bad faith in trying to “scam” students. But on the whole, most of the reaction of the panelists and the audience was pretty much in keeping with the critics. Two moments from the Q&A stood out. First, one law professor audience member suggested that law professor salaries were unjustifiably high, and that they could not be legitimately sustained. The panelists had mixed responses to this suggestion — Bill Henderson disagreed, for example — but no one thought the idea at all nutty. Second, after one professor lamented that much of the online debate over these issues involved strident and vindictive anonymous online commenters, another professor responded that if law professors can’t win a war of words, they need to check to see if their arguments are as strong as they think they are.
It’s too early to tell if the arguments of Tamanaha and others have really become so widely accepted among law professors to have become a majority view. Perhaps those who opted to attend a panel on “Law Schools and Their Critics” are more likely to be critics than most professors. Perhaps defenders of the existing law school model have decided to keep quiet about it given the rush of angry anonymous criticism that follows public defenses. And there certainly was no clear agreement about what schools should do next. But in a room with well over 100 law professors, the basic critique appeared to be the majority view.