Membership in the Club Denied

Marc John Randazza teaches law school.  He is an adjunct professor at Barry University Law School in Florida, and knows his stuff when it comes to First Amendment, Trademark, Copyright, Entertainment and Sports Law.  He believes in law students.  He believes in teaching them to become first rate lawyers.  And yet the other lawprofs won’t play with him.

Randazza was one of the original participants in the discussion about Danielle Citron’s Cyber Civil Rights, the online symposium that brought about some great, and some less than great, discussion on her controversial proposition that by turning cyberbullying into a sexist thing, it would justify suppression of free speech and anonymity.  Yet Randazza was excluded as a “symposiast”.  Worse still, when a crack developed in the closed circle of “open-source academics” and Randazza had a chance to get a word in, he was either ignored or berated by other lawprofs. 

When Paul Caron at TaxProf Blog listed the top 35 law professor blogs, Randazza’s very popular blog, The Legal Satyricon, which would certainly have deserved a spot based on its visitors and page views, was nowhere to be found. 

What has Marc John Randazza done to deserve this treatment?  He refused to behave like a good member of the club.

It all spilled over yesterday in his scathing attack on legal academia, The Worthlessness of American Legal Education.  Every sacred cow, every inside secret, all the things that lawprofs are supposed to hold dear, came under scrutiny.  And Randazza told it exactly as he saw it, no holds barred.  This is academic blasphemy. 

The issue is not with Randazza’s qualifications, or thoughts, or scholarship, as far as I can tell.  It’s that he says what he means. He says it clearly and in bold language.  He uses colloquialisms, and truth be told, epithets.  He curses like a drunken sailor, and if he thinks someone is a liar or a idiot, he calls them a liar or an idiot.  What he does not do is employ the multisyllabic, obfuscating jargon of the academy to maintain the level of decorum and collegiality demanded of members of the club.  For this, he is shunned by the rest of the law professors. 

It’s not that scholars are forbidden to disagree, but that there is a rigid manner imposed on the language of disagreement, where it must begin with a statement of positive affirmation and then, coupled with a tenuous claim of potential error, the weak assertion of a counterpoint framed in nonthreatening jargon is marginally included.  Much of the time, one is left clueless as to the points, both for and against, and where and why disagreement exists. 

Indeed, the framework often fails to leave the reader with the notion that there is any disagreement at all, but merely some extraordinarily minor variation on a theme, even when the positions are polar.  It gets that obtuse because no one wants to speak ill of someone else’s idea, no matter how wrong or absurd.  That’s how club members are supposed to treat each other.

As a result of my time in the blawgosphere, I’ve come to gain great respect for many lawprofs. Not all, but many.  Not many respect me, I’m afraid.  Most hate it when I tread on their turf, because I do so in a way that causes them vapors.  Like Randazza, I speak like a lawyer, using course, occasionally vulgar, often snarky and sometimes even brutish language.  My thoughts aren’t wrapped up in pretty paper and tied in a pristine white ribbon.  When I write in disagreement, they attack me.  Ironically, it’s about the only time they find it acceptable to use clear language, but then I’m not a member of the club, so I’m fair game. 

It may be that members of the club have delicate sensibilities, though it’s hard to imagine that they were so soft when they worked for the Department of Justice for that year or two before joining up.  It may be that wrapping themselves in the trappings of academia, a warm cocoon where they are protected from the animals who inhabit the trenches, has insulated them from the harsh world where lawyers scrape and fight with each for intellectual crumbs and dirty fees.  They can be unbearably thin-skinned about disagreement, feeling that it’s unfair and unduly harsh because we don’t used the veiled jargon of the Academy to conceal our real meaning. 

For example, one of my favorite quotes, when Dan Markel at PrawfsBlawg chastised me for using the phrase “circle jerk” to describe the internal goals of law review articles: impress their tenure committee.

The other day, I shared some of Jeff Lipshaw’s advice for beginning law professors. It triggered this  conniption from Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice. Apparently Greenfield was so blinded by rage  over the fact that law profs don’t always care about whether their scholarship had practical utility to practicing lawyers that he couldn’t even accurately read that the advice actually came largely from Jeff (instead of me). In any event, I’d be happy to take credit for Jeff’s pearls [and Scott has since tried to clarify it with an update].

To my mind, Greenfield’s rant is misdirected.  Putting aside the juvenile tone –  is a description of academia as a big “circle-jerk” really all that illuminating? — let me just make a few quick points on the merits.

The phrase “circle-jerk” was not merely a great descriptor, but one that has often been used to describe the insularity of lawprofs agreeing amongst themselves and within themselves.  That may make us (me?) juvenile, but it really is a great illuminator because to clearly conveys the point, something anathema to the members of the club.

These issues have reared their ugly head again with the CCR symposium comments, Straightforward criticism is called “abusive” and “harsh” because it can be easily identified as disagreement.  No one, but no one, openly says that another member of the club is wrong.  Well, actually one person, but that’s only because she is such a bully that she can say whatever pops into her head and anyone who challenges her is immediately labeled sexist and tossed from the wood-paneled clubhouse.  There is no greater crime.  All the other members cower in fear of her. 

The lawprofs really hate the fact that a trench lawyer like me writes about their world.  They send me emails asking, imploring, demanding that I lay off and stay away from them.  Some tell me that they agree with me, but that they could never openly admit it and beg me to keep their emails private.  I respect their requests, because I know that they have to live amongst their own.  But they consider what I do here to be a threat to the carefully crafted image they’ve developed, especially the ones who have yet to obtain tenure.  I can shoot nasty, brutish arrows at them, and they feel that they can do nothing to defend themselves without getting down in the mud with a trench lawyer like me. 

My self-references here are used merely as a courtesy to Randazza.  It’s better to make the point by self-example than to bring the lawprof, Randazza, into the mud, mostly because he doesn’t belong there.  Whereas law schools would never touch a lawyer like me, not just because I have experience in the things that their lawprofs teach, but because I might cause “conniptions” in their faculty meeting when I neglect to use the word “pedagogical” and cause tenured professors to faint.  If I taught, my students might learn how to be lawyers, but could I possibly produce the scholarship that distinguishes a member of the club from the pedestrian lawyer-trainer?

But as easily as the lawprofs can blow off a fellow like me, it’s much harder for them to explain and justify their rejection of Randazza from the secret society.  After all, he’s already got the job, though the tenure track sneers at the lowly adjunct.  But Randazza isn’t some legal research and writing cog, the typical throwaway post, but teaches real courses.  He just won’t play their game.

Neither Randazza nor I think ill of the many lawprofs who post their ideas and thoughts on legal subjects across the blawgosphere.  Indeed, I believe that we both have great respect for them, and I know I’ve learned a great deal from reading their many posts.  But this fear of scrutiny, hiding behind big words to obfuscate their point, and the compulsion to reject clarity because it’s too vulgar for their delicate sensibilities, diminishes their worth. 

It’s fine to ridicule me as a dumb trench lawyer, unworthy of your scholarly attention, but you can only stand on your pedestal if there are trench lawyers like me to look up to you.  It seemed for a while that we were getting past this scholar/lawyer dichotomy, but the CCR symposium made clear that the division remains as deep as ever.  Despite some hearty dissenters, the knives were as dull as ever, except when it came to Randazza.  Suddenly, the soft grew firm and clear.  Like magic.

Marc John Randazza is a lawprof.  He just sounds like one of us trench lawyers.  If you think he’s wrong, stand up to his ideas rather than dismiss him because of his word choice.  If you’re half the scholars you think you are, this shouldn’t be a problem.  Toughen up and deal with the challenge.  Like it or not, he’s one of you as far as the rest of us are concerned, and we can see quite clearly that you’re trying to keep him out of the club.  If you want our respect, let Randazza be a member.

3 comments on “Membership in the Club Denied

  1. Deborah

    Thank you for stand up for Law Professor Marc John Randazza, he brings light to a system that screams for redemption law students need and the economy demands.

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