Keeping The Cash Cow Happy

It’s as if the world inside the Academy was untouched by human hands.  At least the hands of a lawyer.  While practitioners complain that students emerge from law school unprepared to face the world as lawyers, and students complain that the fine time they have inside the Ivory Tower serves only to make the slap in the face as they step through the door into the real world more painful, law professors are busily trying to figure out ways to make the experience different.  Better. Fun.

Over at PrawfsBlawg, Howard Wasserman floated an idea about how to up the fun quotient on exams:

For no particular reason, I started thinking today about doing a question in which students would get a one-frame cartoon (The New Yorker would be the obvious source, but we could find them from other sources) and have the student relate that cartoon to the material in the course. My wife had an exam that did this in a sociology course and it sounds like a fun idea (although she said it was the hardest exam she had in college).

Could this work? And does anyone have ideas on cartoon(s) to use?

This could, of course, be great experience if a client arrives at your office, one-frame cartoon in hand, and asks your advice.  A commenter suggested that his effort would come to naught.

I realize I am a stick in the mud, but as a 3L, I would ask you not to attempt to be fun or cute with your exams. No one likes taking or grading exams, but they are usually worse when a professor attempts to break out of the mold with something playful. Such exams often suggest that the professor does not take the process seriously, and that the grades themselves are arbitrary.

To be crass, think of an exam like a colonoscopy: it’s not a fun procedure whatever you do, and the doc’s only going to make it worse by performing it in a clown suit. Exams and grades have a major impact on your students’ futures, and they will appreciate you more if you treat the process with the seriousness it deserves.

Out of the mouths of babes.  But Wasserman was not so easily deterred.  While he might have overstepped on the clown suit idea, he still questioned, in a subsequent post, whether there was a better way to make law school exams more “fun”:

The idea is to try to break the tension of the exam a bit. As a student, I found it helpful if there was something unique or fun about the exam, even if only as a momentary distraction. There is a balance to be struck, of course. We as prawfs can try too hard. And there always is a risk that only a few students will “get” the humor or culture references–and perhaps that “getting it” will provide an unfair advantage on the exam itself. Several people raised this issue as to my cartoon idea and maybe it falls on the wrong side of the line.

But the broader question stands: Can students enjoy exams just a little bit and is there anything we can do to help? Or is an exam always an uncomfortable medical procedure and any effort to make it otherwise merely detracts from the seriousness of the exam itself?

One of the perpetual problems with intramural discussions amongst scholars is that they try to arrive at idea about how best to train lawyers without involving lawyers in their discussions.  Since so few real lawyers bother to read the lawprof blawgs, the lawprofs are left to their own devices.  Having stumbled upon Wasserman’s post, I decided to butt in and provide an outside perspective:

I hope I don’t ruin the fun by injecting the practitioner’s perspective, but one of the missing ingredients we see in the blossoming law student is tolerance for the reality that life as a lawyer is frequently not “fun”.

Judges can be decidedly unfun. Clients too. Perhaps the effort to make exams more fun is counterproductive at a time when practitioners complain that law students emerge from school largely unprepared to meet their professional responsibilities?

My comment was roundly ignored, which made me feel right at home.  Not their home, but mine, where I am roundly ignored by those who care most for me.  While this was occurring over at PrawfBlawg, the New York Times Room for Debate discussed a similar question, whether graduate students are “students” or “consumers”. 

There is a fundamental rift in how law schools perceive law students.  While one might suppose that they are all busy kissing up to their cash chow, that’s not quite the case.  Consider Richard Vedder, director of the Center of College Affordability and Productivity and teaches economics at Ohio University:

The “student as customer” philosophy has created an underworked and overindulged group of future national leaders, something that likely will prove costly in the long run.
But as others in the Debate Room argue, they can’t do the things that professors like to do without cash-paying students to fund them. 

The one thing that Wasserman’s question ignores is the efficacy of making law school more fun.  His concern with amusing his students, and himself, and making the law school “experience” more enjoyable, is fundamentally misfocused.  It not only perpetuates the fraud of trying to convince law students that law is fun, that they are entitled to fun, that they will have fun when they leave the ivy-covered buildings and take their folding chair in the boiler room, or if they are very lucky, the library. 

Law isn’t fun.  If you want fun, find something else to do.  And if you need fun to help get you through the rigors of law school, then get out now and save your pennies.  You’re headed for a miserable life.

I can understand why Howard Wasserman is trying to make the children in his charge enjoy their experience more.  He’s concerned for them, likes them and wants them to feel better about law school.  It’s a kind thing to do, from his point of view.  But these same students will not find such kindness or thoughtfulness when they strike out on their own.  They will find decidedly unkind judges.  They will find particularly unkind bosses.  They will find clients for whom kindness to them is like the plague.

Law schools are particularly against the idea of becoming trade schools, and I do not agree that theory and understanding of the law has no place in law school, though I do believe that students need to learn the mechanics of their chosen field as well as concepts.  But neither requires that they be coddled.  Indeed, teaching law students to overcome adversity is critical to their survival as lawyers. 

Rather than make law school a more pleasant, a “funner”, place, it should be as difficult and, even, miserable as the practice of law.  If they can’t hack it, then maybe they will be taught the most important lesson they can get from law school: They shouldn’t be lawyers.