At Concurring Opinions, Dave Hoffman raises a problem that likely falls under the radar in discussions of how to improve law school, and hence the new lawyer coming into a profession about which they know next to nothing. Much is made of the role of the adjunct professor, the seasoned practicing lawyer who provides the practical insights that academics may lack.
The adjunct is supposed to pick up the slack between the “real” professor, whose primary interest is crafting a law review article that someone will read and, dare they hope, cite, and the student who anticipates that after three years of opportunity costs and a bundle of debt, they will emerge competent to be a lawyer. Yea, adjunct. Well, maybe not so much.
With unprecedented financial pressure on law schools due to low application and enrollment, something has to give. With the least clout of anyone in the academy, that turns out to be the adjunct.
One wrinkle concerns the “fate” of law school adjuncts. Law schools typically employ adjuncts to teach cutting edge areas in practice, and those adjuncts are almost always otherwise employed as full-time lawyers and judges. Those lawyers and judges provide students with opportunities to understand developments in practice that no full-time instructor could deliver (whether or not that instructor ever writes a law review article). They also can be sources for leads on jobs, and can model professionalism.
Hoffman writes of the “glory” potential of being an adjunct. There is also the role of handling courses real prawfs hate, like legal writing and professional responsibility. There is nothing cutting edge about it, and no glory to be had. It’s just a job.
The result is that adjuncts, who typically aren’t organized and who have little job security, can be treated like workers in the rest of the economy – i.e., terribly so long as market conditions permit.
The responsive argument is that nobody seeks an adjunct post for the money, which is a curious view coming from prawfs making more than a quarter million dollars to teach six hours a week. Rather, they see the most significant benefit of being an adjunct to be basking in the reflected glory of academia.
For many law school adjuncts, association with the school brings significant professional benefits, which are more likely to motivate taking the gig than the relative pittance adjuncts are paid. Lawyers routinely highlight their law school teaching expertise in advertising – “Teaches criminal advocacy at X…”, “Professor teaching ERISA at Y….” (I can’t prove that clients care about this kind of puffing, but the prevalence of claims in the market suggests they might.)
I would suggest that there might be a cause and effect challenge in this assessment; that the puffing isn’t what motivates anyone to become an adjunct, but rather is used because it’s all they get. Not that anyone, client or lawyer, cares, but given the “pittance” they’re paid, adjuncts are resigned to enjoying whatever puny benefit comes from the puffery.
Knowing quite a few practicing lawyers who teach as adjuncts, and having done a bit of teaching myself, I suggest that this view completely misses the point of why practicing lawyers spend their time teaching law students to be something “real” professors cannot: We give a damn.
Aside: Consider, if you will, why I write this blawg, where I get my butt kicked by a never-ending stream of pseudonymous douches and nutjobs who want to prove me wrong. Is it for the prestige and fabulous wealth it brings me? Uh. no.
One of my earliest recognitions as a young lawyer, was that the warm glow of a successful representation had a shelf life of about 30 minutes. Then it was gone. The only question was what have I done lately, as I would look back on my accomplishment and see nothing. Lawyers don’t build things. When we’re done with our work, the best we can do is offer a sheaf of papers and watch the back of a client as he walks away, holding his children’s hands. Yes, it’s good. No, it’s not enough.
No human being worth the name wants to leave this earth without feeling that he or she has contributed in some meaningful way to the betterment of society. One way to achieve this sense of purpose is to give back to the next generation, to help others as we were helped, or worse, as we weren’t.
[A]s Eric Goldman once commented, “There are lots of good reasons to be an adjunct, but the pay is definitely not one of them.”
In the course of giving back, we pay a price. It sucks up time from our work, as any half-decent adjunct puts in a significant amount of time in preparation so that he can actually teach, actually help, law students to mature into competent lawyers. It steals time from our families, our hobbies, our other interests. Under other circumstances, this is just part of the gig, and it’s easily taken in stride. A cost of giving back.
But when the practice of law is under the same financial stresses that impact law schools, the relative cost skyrockets. When lawyers aren’t doing well financially in their practice, the time lost to the practice to “give back” by being an adjunct becomes very expensive. Or as the legal philosopher, Billy Joel, explained, “they started to fight when the money got tight, and they just didn’t count on the tears.”
While it’s certainly easier for the law schools to beat up on adjuncts, who are utterly powerless to fight back, when it comes to cost-cutting, and it’s similarly facile for “real” prawfs to assume that the value of “puffing,” of being able to tell clients that you hand out near the brightest lights of the legal academy, is sufficient compensation, it’s not quite true.
Many adjuncts need to at least cover the cost of giving back, if not actually make money teaching. Law schools need adjuncts, so they can pretend they’re pushing “practice ready” students out the front door, and so they can give their students a fighting chance at being prepared for their future. And yet, adjuncts are powerless to end the beating they receive.
Hoffman questions whether adjuncts should unionize in order to gain the benefit of collective action where their individual power is essentially nonexistent. That this question is even on the table reflects the short-term and foolish bias of academia. After all, who needs anyone teaching students who actually has a clue about the practice of law, when you can have fabulous scholars cranking out law review articles no one reads? Isn’t that what law school is all about?