Hard Work, The Lawprofs’ New Normal

At PrawfsBlawg, Northwestern Law Dean Dan Rodriguez has been offering his insight on the future of law school from his thoroughly modern dean chair.  In his latest missive, he drops a dime.

As reformists and irritants likewise insist, we are going to increase our expectations of full-time faculty members in order to realize cost savings and take our foots off the tution (sic) pedal.  Market pressures make the exhortation “pay the bastards less” ring rather hollow — and all the shouting and screeching from the disgruntled won’t make it otherwise.  Salaries for incumbents will remain more or less where they are (albeit with rarer raises).  Faculty hiring is what will take the hit.  In this environment, law schools will be asked to do more with less.

Refusing to succumb to the screeching of “irritants” who don’t appreciate the  awesomeness of scholars, Rodriguez nonetheless gives the bad news of how law schools, the profit centers of academia, will demand that lawprofs hereinafter work for a living.

His first new demand of the professoriate is (hold on to your hats, now), that they will have to . . . teach.

Teaching regularly and well and with sufficient accomodation (sic) to institutional needs, as these needs evolve in this new and difficult era.  Deans, including this one, will be reticent to enter into permanent teaching reduction agreements.  Scheduling will need to follow the imperative of student learning and sensible organizational management, not principally the convenience of full-time faculty members.  Faculty leaves, whatever the reason and whatever past practice, should be discretionary and timed around the needs of the school and its learning environment.  And teaching must be excellent — sophisticated in content, coherent in expression, up-to-date, and connected increasingly to the essential project of making our students into first-rate young lawyers;

What law student doesn’t want to be turned into a “first-rate young lawyer”?  Especially older students, who would be happy to be turned into a “young” anything, but that’s besides the point. The gist is that lawprofs will no longer be allowed to dictate permanent teaching reduction agreements to suit their convenience, but instead by expected to teach the courses the school needs taught.

That means that some poor schmuck is going to have to teach professional responsibility, even though they have no interest in teaching anything other than Con Law (everybody wants to teach Con Law, only using different amendments) and Law and Nietzsche.  Some baby lawprof is going to get Evidence rammed down his throat and he can take it or get a real job. Bummer.

It’s unclear what Rodriguez means by “teaching must be excellent.”  Does this reflect a break from the past where teaching sucked?  Does this mean that law schools will no longer be tolerant of scholars, wholly disinterested in wiping snotty noses, wasting semesters by regaling their students with their pet theories or personal peccadilloes?  What makes this confusing is that Rodriguez, according to his bio, never practiced law. Aside from a year clerking for 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski, his every paycheck came from academia.  How then, one wonders, would he have the slightest clue what it takes to turn students into first-rate young lawyers?

In the comments to this post, an anonymous young (read “untenured”) professor raises the issue:

I’m a somewhat new (untenured) professor and a CJA attorney for criminal appellate matters. I take students on to do as much of the work as they’re capable of, and I teach them as much as I can commensurate with representing a (real) client. I get paid by the court, and they get paid by the court. Luckily, I’m at a school that, for all I can tell, values this experience. It also informs my teaching and scholarship in demonstrable and substantive ways. This, by the way, in addition to a heavy service load, full teaching schedule, and scholarship. Here’s the thing: I’m almost certain that if I went on the job market for a higher-tier school, I’d have to downplay or virtually hide this work.

I have to wonder whether CJA knows that he’s billing for law student hours, or whether he’s paying the law students the full freight, but I digress.  Such naivete, thinking that his appellate practice is valued in the new paradigm of teaching excellence.  Orin Kerr schools him in response.

Anon, sadly, that’s pretty much true, although it may depend somewhat on the school. I argued a Supreme Court case on an issue I had written about in my work while I was doing a visit at a higher-ranked school. I tried not to bring up the case during the visit, as my sense was that it would probably hurt my candidacy by making me seem too much like a lawyer.

For most, arguing before the Supreme Court is a highlight, a good thing that most lawyers never get to do. Not that it adds much to a lawprofs ability to turn minds of mush into first-rate lawyers, since few, if any, will ever do so, and the experience bears little correlation to what happens in the trenches, but still, it’s kind of impressive.  Not for lawprofs, however. It’s a scarlet letter, a taint, to be hidden so none of the other scholars laugh at you and call you dirty names, like lawyer.  Ewww.

But fear not, despite this environment of doing the hard and dirty work of teaching undesirable courses to unappreciative teacups.  There will still be room for scholars.

Insofar as scholarship forms an important part of the modern faculty portfolio, expectations of excellent, impactful scholarship should be highindeed, in this difficult environment, especially high.  Law profs have an exceptionally enviable gig.  Let’s just suppose that faculty members need to demonstrate their suitability for this gig on an annual basis, and with unimpeachable evidence that they are doing their scholarly work at a level that befits this great job.

Yes, lawprofs do have “an exceptionally enviable gig,” and it is therefore hardly a burden to demand that they do pretty much exactly what they were  doing before the New Normal, like writing “excellent, impactful scholarship!” ([S]ee Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, 104 Mich. L.R. 1523 [2006].) 

The takeaway is that some rookie lawprof is going to be miserable being saddled with teaching the crap course no one else wants, like Evidence, and that the law porn finding its way to scholarly mailboxes everywhere will include the word “excellence” as often as possible.  

And as before, lawyers need not apply, because that would just feed into the arrogance of the irritants, who just don’t get what law school is really all about.