The Guerrilla In The Law School Classroom

The head-scratcher was why the ABA, which has been granted the authority to accredit law schools for reasons that haven’t aged well, decided that Texas needed yet another new one when it conditionally approved one at the University of North Texas-Dallas. Were there not enough unemployed, starving new lawyers vying for jobs at Dairy Queen already?

The answer may be found in the critique of this inexplicable decision at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Texas as a state has no shortage of lawyers. However, UNT has sought to train lawyers interested in representing lower-income residents by admitting students from more diverse, and non-traditional backgrounds. The school, which was launched in 2014, also placed a lower priority on LSAT scores than many institutions. Instead, it looked for work experience and other accomplishments that indicated applicants could succeed in classes and on the bar exam. And UNT is charging thousands less in tuition and fees than even other public law schools in the state.

One would have thought that the purpose of a law school was to train lawyers. Some might be public defenders. Some might do mergers & acquisitions. All would leave law school with a degree that allowed them to practice any area of law they chose, with the caveat that they could pass the bar exam.  For UNT, that was the catch. Admitting students to law school because of their ability to ride unicorns on rainbows didn’t correlate nearly as well with having the intellectual capacity to pass the bar as passionate reformers wished.

But when the rationale for a school’s very existence is to “train lawyers interested in representing lower-income residents,” as opposed to competent lawyers, that makes this “underground” movement in the legal academy scary as hell. It’s called the “Guerrilla Guides To Law Teaching,” and if I was a guerrilla, I would be pissed.

This “mission”-based approach is a “new web-based course resource for incorporating social movements into law-school classes. It is produced by Amna Akbar (Ohio State), Sameer Ashar (UC-Irvine), Bill Quigley (Loyola-NO), and Jocelyn Simonson (Brooklyn).” Remember when law professors were hired to teach, you know, law? And their students were able to pass the bar exam and actually become lawyers?  Good times.

It’s not just that lawprofs are now invested in the notion that their politics, progressive because of their cognitive emotions, should guide their indoctrination of students. It’s that they are now seeking to alter the core of a legal education from teaching what the law is to what they feel the law ought to be. They even have a “mission.”

  1. Building Solidarities. Collaborate & talk with each other, our students, impacted communities, & organizers about meeting this moment with creativity, community, & an open heart.
  2.  Advancing Resistance. Bring lived experiences, the material conditions under which people live, & histories of collective resistance of marginalized people into the classroom.
  3. Broadening & Deepening Discourse.  Name the Politics of Law & Expand the range of discourse in the classroom to include radical & left politics, & the imaginations & critiques of  marginalized communities.  
  4. Radical Interventions. Embolden law teachers to teach, talk, & practice law & lawyering differently.

Bet you didn’t know this is what your tuition dollars were going for. You probably thought you were paying tuition so that some prawf would teach you, oh, torts or secured transactions. Sure, there was a third year elective in Law & Nietzsche, where your eyes would learn such gems as

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.

Except that won’t be on the bar exam. Not even the Multistate portion. So what is it these guerrilla teachers think you need to learn?

In our experiences, lawyers fighting for justice share many of the following characteristics. They develop and maintain a deep commitment to working with, not for, marginalized groups of people. They commit to learning from and with marginalized groups of people. They continuously study and develop theories of how just change comes about. They are willing to join in challenges to power even when doing so makes the lawyers uncomfortable. They acknowledge and struggle against their privilege. They humbly acknowledge the tremendous gifts that struggling for justice with others confer on lawyers. They learn how to step back and let organizations of people lead. They create alternative ways of practicing law. They accept less power, recognition and compensation.

And what law student doesn’t want to “fight for justice”?  After all, did you go to law school to fight for injustice?  Aren’t you willing to “accept less power, recognition and compensation” when your cause is justice?  So what is this “justice” of which they speak?

A place to start is to name the politics of law—its relationship to white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and neoliberalism.  The typical absence of this naming obscures the hegemonic political project of law, making us all subservient to its politics, disabling us from real structural critique or imagining alternatives for law and lawyering.  From there we can imagine radical alternatives.

Here’s a radical alternative for you. Spare students your hegemonic jargon, empty rhetoric and social justice tears and teach them the law as if they might someday have to pass the bar exam so that they can eventually become lawyers.

Much is made of academic freedom, that teachers be given the latitude to explore scholarship outside the box without fear of reprisal, like getting fired for sucking as a teacher because of the inability to distinguish the subject matter you’re being paid to teach from your indulgence in whatever flaming nutjob causes are nearest and dearest to your hearts.

It’s not that a the law school at University of North Texas-Dallas will never be accredited. It’s that the students were misled, lied to, when they dedicated their time and money to getting a law decree from a school more concerned with progressive politics than educating students.

And if this all sounds mean and harsh, wipe the tear from your weepy eye and give this some thought: those “lower-income residents” for whom you pretend to teach law students deserve competent counsel just like everyone else. Not the radicalized ninnies your guerrilla curriculum is doomed to create.

If your feelz make it impossible for you to do your job and teach students to become lawyers, then quit immediately for everyone’s sake. Humbly acknowledge that you are the problem and that you, yes you, suck at being a law professor. Students fail because you failed them. I hear there might be a position open down at the Dairy Queen. It would be perfect for you.

42 comments on “The Guerrilla In The Law School Classroom

  1. Odder

    “After all, did you go to law school to fight for injustice?”

    I’d say yes, if you were looking to become a prosecutor in the US.

    “Aren’t you willing to “accept less power, recognition and compensation” when your cause is justice?”

    I’d say yes, if you were looking to become a public defender.

    1. SHG Post author

      Some might give the exact opposite answers. Either way, if you know going in what you’re buying, that’s great. But you can’t be either a prosecutor or public defender if you can’t pass the bar.

  2. david

    Whats with this hate you have for Dairy Queen? When I go for my double cisheteropatriachy inspired vanilla with unlived experience sprinkles, I want it to be served to me by someone I can appropriately sneer at as poor white trash, not someone who is going to give me ‘tude about my white male privilege of daring to have money to spend on luxury items when in reality I should be choking down my own shredded immoral bank records Liberally sauced with ground Trump juice and sprinkled with hydrofluric acid.
    Get thee behind me, Greenfield; leave Dairy Queen alone!

  3. DaveL

    They create alternative ways of practicing law. They accept less power, recognition and compensation.

    Why does that sound suspiciously like marketing spin for “They work at Hot Topic and survive on ramen noodles”?

  4. Ryan

    “white supremacy, cisheteropatriarchy, capitalism, and neoliberalism.” What bigoted racist, I guess they are just too privileged to acknowledge the feels being waged against the rapetocracy and the rapeiarchy … I don’t think I made those up

  5. Erik H.

    Although legal casebooks and syllabi often contain background materials and facts about the cases that students study, the voices of expertise remain the professionals: the judges, the lawyers, and the professors.

    Can you imagine paying for an education where this was NOT the case?

    Students should also be exposed to the lived experiences of those most directly affected by the laws and policies that we study, expanding the definition of expertise and pushing towards an understanding of how law affects people and how people affect law.

    For chrissakes. What is wrong with these idiots?

    “Judge, I’d like to call an expert on welfare economics.”
    “Yes counsel. What are his qualifications?”
    “Well, he doesn’t have any formal training or education. But he’s been on welfare for almost 3 years now, and…”

  6. Marc Whipple

    “After all, did you go to law school to fight for injustice? ”

    I decline to answer on the grounds that my answer may…

    Anyway, at the risk of getting whapped on the nose, I propose that we go ahead and accredit this school if it will add “Irving” to its name. (Since logic is passe, it’s not important whether it’s actually in Irving. Irving, Dallas, close enough.) This is because of the meta-accreditation rule I concurrently propose, namely, if a new school would have a cool acronym, it is automatically accredited. Tell me that wouldn’t sound impressive in an interview. You *can’t.*

    “Where’d you go to law school?”

    “The UNIT, man.”

    “Awesome. You’re hired.”

    This makes, I assert, as much sense as any of the other forms of accreditation we’ve tried, and would create a healthy economic boost for manufacturers of t-shirts, bumper stickers, and car-window decals. It would also give the SocJus/New Reform/AntiChes crowd something to crow about and distract them while the rest of us try to figure out this whole seasteading thing.

    1. Scott Jacobs

      I dunno about y’all, but I plan to go to learn to fight for money. Justice, if it results, will be a by-product. Or injustice. So long as I win I’m not much troubled by these labels.

      I’m sorry, was that overly cynical?

  7. mb

    Anyone with even the most rudimentary knowledge of family law in the U.S. who describes it as “patriarchal” is too stupid to practice law or to teach it to others.

    1. Patrick Maupin

      No, no, no, it’s all part of the patriarchy. The system suffers from “benign sexism”, which is much worse than the other kind even when it produces decisions that heavily favor paired x chromosomes.

      1. mb

        Pretending that made sense, patriarch means father, not anything about outcomes. If they’re dumb enough to think falling back to such irrelevant nonsense retroactively unstupids their original position, they’re too stupid to work at Dairy Queen. And I would know, as the smartest person who works at Dairy Queen.

        1. Patrick Maupin

          Well, I mis-typed “benevolent” as “benign”, but…

          > Pretending that made sense

          Why on earth would you do that? I can report it, but I certainly can’t explain all the beliefs in or about it.

          > they’re too stupid to work at Dairy Queen.

          Seems unlikely. In my experience, if they can’t handle the real-world exigencies of the deep-fat fryer, management just puts them on the register.

          > And I would know, as the smartest person who works at Dairy Queen.

          I’ve been meaning to ask you about this. Can you get corporate to promulgate some sort of employment test, such that when the bill totals $5.84, and I give them $11.09, I get a five dollar bill and a quarter rather than a deer-frozen-in-the-headlights look?

          1. Marc not-R

            And send it to Whataburger (since this post is about Texas, in part) so they don’t hand me back the 2 pennies I gave them on the $7.77 check . . .and then wonder why I am shaking my head slowly when they give me the rest of the change . . ..

  8. RollieB

    Would public defenders, innocent/exoneration projects, and public interest law firms be more effective in your idea of legal utopia? Or are you simply pissed at a law professor who noticed your lack of feelz? I await your glib retort, or is that reserved for the inner circle?

  9. losingtrader

    Sounds like a 12-step program, not a law school. But, maybe they’ll take my 38 year old LSAT

  10. Brad

    The SJW stuff is a new argument for accrediting UNTDCL. Its biggest cheerleader in getting it approved was Texas State Senator Royce West, who primarily went with an argument that “every person has the right to an affordable legal education if they want one,” with a clear emphasis on minority rights, and questions of qualifications, fitness to practice, or ability to pass the bar were all irrelevant in light of protecting this “right.”

    But the kids can’t say they were deceived — they have been informed from the beginning that the school would make best efforts to pursue accreditation but could make no guarantees. And some of the students are pretty impressive, and could probably get into the other local schools, but couldn’t afford it or require a night school (neither SMU nor TAMU law offer night classes any more, I think).

    1. SHG Post author

      I’m unimpressed by the disclaimer. We’re deluged with pro forma disclaimers (prior results are no guarantee of future outcomes) that we ignore them. What student in his right mind would pay tuition (even if it’s lower than other schools) and opportunity costs if they didn’t believe they would become lawyers at the end?

      And as for appreciating that they’re getting a social justice education instead of a legal one, they’re ill-prepared to understand going into school. The professors, on the other hand, have no excuse.

      1. Brad

        My understanding is that it isn’t a pro-forma disclaimer re accreditation. They are informed repeatedly, and the Dean meets one-on-one with each student during their first semester, where he emphasized the issue with them.

        I have no idea if the students think they’re getting a “social justice education” — but I doubt it. The curriculum is heavily (maybe entirely, at this point) concentrated on core practice/bar subjects. They haven’t been around long enough to have all the fuzzy 3L classes that other schools have.

        I was and am against another law school around here, and am skeptical that many or most of the students will be ultimately successful. But I think they’re trying to do it right and to help the students succeed — I’ve seen nothing that suggests that anything they’re actually teaching has anything to do with social movements.

        My only involvement with the school itself has been to attend a presentation by Judge Ferguson, some of the faculty, and some of the students in their efforts to get buy-in from the local legal community. They’ve had dozens of those, getting lawyers and judges on campus to talk about their “vision” and try to build connections. About half a dozen of my lawyer friends are now teaching there to some extent or another. Neither the presentations nor anything my friends have said have anything to do with social movements — they’re just doing their best to try educate the “non-traditional” students for the bar exam and eventual practice. And they probably will be able to take the bar – the Texas Supreme Court has historically made exceptions to schools in such cases.

          1. student

            As a student at UNTDCOL, there is little to no SJ taught in the classes (thankfully). The only place any of that stuff has come up is in the student-run organizations, which are easy to avoid.

            All your stuff about Guerilla law education whatever has nothing to do with UNTDCOL (how’s that for an unwieldy acronym? Better than ASSLAW, I guess). Pretty much every word after the third paragraph is irrelevant to anything taught at the school. Courses are keyed to the bar and curriculum is designed to help with bar passage.

            The purpose of the low cost is to not burden the students with high amounts of debt to allow them to be able to work in a lower paying job if they wish.

            1. SHG Post author

              I’m sincerely glad to hear that the reality of attending UNTDCOL doesn’t align with the social justice “pitch” being put out. For your (and all other students there) sake, I think everyone hopes you receive a sound legal education and passes the bar after graduation. The last people any of us want to see harmed by all this collateral social justice nonsense are the students.

              And any acronym is better than ASSLaw.

    2. DaveL

      every person has the right to an affordable legal education if they want one

      The corollary being, of course, that somebody has the obligation to subsidize a legal education for even the most hopeless cases.

  11. LTMG

    How many years of 6.3+/-2% bar exam pass rates will here have to be before the UNT SJW Law School either closes its doors or radically revises its mission statement? I’ll bet 4 years.

  12. John Viola

    I wonder if the vitriol in your critique of the Guerilla Guide is a mask for a primarily ideological objection to the proposed curriculum reform. I also wonder how supporting the status quo in law school pedagogy is any more or less indoctrinating than the new proposal. One just happens to be normative, and the other non-normative, but both have the potential to inculcate students with an ideological perspective. Actually the Guerilla curriculum would seem to run less of this risk since it is up front about its ideology, whereas as the traditional curriculum has a pretense of neutrality. The new curriculum also stresses the value of critical thinking, which would tend to support active rather than passive reception of the material. Lastly, I simply reject the assertion that a curriculum which challenges the status quo necessarily means that students will be less prepared for the bar exam.

    Then again don’t take my word. I couldn’t get a job in a firm, but instead of Dairy Queen, I threw in for teaching!

    1. SHG Post author

      No need to hurt yourself by all that wondering about my vitriol. Obviously, anyone who thinks your baby is ugly does so for shameless ideological reasons. That way, you can bask in the warm glow of certainty that your feelings are never wrong.

      And don’t feel badly about teaching. Not everyone is cut out for a job in the real world.

  13. Peter

    Skimming through the faculty list it looks like one professor was a city attorney, and no one else has any experience in criminal law or public defense. For a law school so committed to “representing the underprivileged” you’d think they would get someone whose walked the walk.

    I’d love to hear about public defense from someone who “served on the faculty from 2006 through 2013, and was Professor of Law and Director of Clinical Education. At UNT Dallas College of Law, Professor Wattley will teach Criminal Law in the first-year curriculum; she will also be the Director of Experiential Education and teach courses in professional skills, criminal law, and professionalism. Professor Wattley is the author of a new book, “A Step Toward Brown v. Board of Education: Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher and Her Fight to End Segregation,” published in October 2014, and winner of the 2015 Oklahoma Book Award, Non-Fiction category.”

    I can’t wait to utilize those feelzy arguments in my next motion to suppress.

    1. student

      She’s a former federal prosecutor. She represented Danny Faulkner. Currently part of the John Wiley Price defense team (representing one of his associates). She ran the legal clinic at OU. She’s done work with the innocence project, representing Ben Spencer. She’s walked the walk.

  14. David Bjornson

    Students should also be exposed to the lived experiences of those most directly affected by the laws and policies that we study, expanding the definition of expertise and pushing towards an understanding of how law affects people and how people affect law.

    1. Myles

      So which is it? Do students not get taught that everyone is entitled to competent counsel or do they not take classes in taxation, secured transactions, mergers & acquisitions, or anything other than representing criminal defendants and tenants? Do you take them on a walking tour of Citicorp to expose them to corporate “lived experiences”? What a load of horseshit.

      1. SHG Post author

        The jargon (“lived experiences”?) alone is insufferable. The stupidity behind it is just pathetic, and yet this is the crap they feed children.

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