Tuesday Talk*: Beyond Stanford, Are Law Schools Lost? (Update)

No doubt there’s a reason why law reviews exist as a place for legal academics to publish their scholarly writings with the acceptance, approval and oversight of student editors. If I cared enough, I could research it and find out, but I don’t. Rather, it’s sufficient for now that the system involves the least knowledgeable, least capable and least attuned to the realities of law making decisions for a profession of which they’ve yet to earn a place.

Most things are published that they may be read. Law review articles are published that they may be written. – J. Posner

And yet, the law review student editors at New York University Law School demand compensation for their hard work.

“We love our work, but prestige is not adequate compensation for the value we provide,” the letter reads. “Our journals have been cited in courts throughout the country, up to the Supreme Court. NYU reaps the benefits of robust journal publication in admissions and institutional prestige.”

Serving as a law review editor is indeed hard work. Reading tediously boring submissions, Blue-booking cites. Requiring additional footnotes. All for journals that few read and fewer care about. But rather than quit the law review, they want money because these are the days that law schools, law deans, acquiesce to the demands of students because they either can’t or won’t say no.

In the aftermath of the Stanford law school debacle surrounding Judge Duncan, numerous emails were sent, one of which being an apology from Dean Jenny Martinez and Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne to Judge Duncan for the failure of an unnamed administrator, DEI Dean Tieren Steinbach, to uphold school policy. Student groups requested that Dean Martinez correct her misguided blame.

Stanford law alumni apparently also wanted to know what she planned to do about this blight on their alma mater’s reputation. Dean Martinez sent them an email as well.

The way the event with Judge Duncan unfolded was not aligned with our institutional commitment to freedom of speech. Staff members who should have enforced university policies failed to do so and instead intervened in inappropriate ways that are not aligned with the university’s commitment to free speech.

As I have shared with you all before—and will continue to affirm during my deanship—Stanford Law School is deeply committed to free speech. President Tessier-Lavigne and I have apologized to Judge Duncan. The school is reviewing what transpired and will work to ensure that protocols are in place so that disruptions of this nature do not occur again. SLS is committed to the conduct of events on terms that are consistent with the disruption policy and the principles of free speech and critical inquiry that they support.

No matter how many times you read Dean Martinez’s words, you will not see anything about what will happen to Dean Steinbach or the students engaged in the disruption. While she says the school is “reviewing what transpired,” which will hopefully take less than the four months Georgetown needed to review a single twit by Ilya Shapiro, it’s only expressed purpose is to “ensure that protocols are in place.”

But they are in place. They had a rule. It was violated. The problem is twofold, that the students knew they could do as they pleased and the dean and a phalanx of legal academics would fabricate rationalizations for why they were right and support them for it.**

Can a law school dean say “no”? Can law professors find it in their hearts, if not their brains, to mold these minds full of mush and turn them into lawyers?

Are the “kids alright” or have we failed them by indulging their whims, their childishness, their arrogance of believing there are no rules which they are required to abide? Will they behave differently in court before a “bad” judge when a defendant’s life is on the line? Will they take comfort in the certainty that they are right, that they are the good and moral voices and can throw bombs at the bad ones who are entitled to neither respect nor decorum because they are wrong and evil?

Has the battle for the future of the legal profession been lost? If so, what then is the purpose of schools of law that have forsaken the role of “vocational schools” to turn out lords of the flies instead of lords of the law?

Update: And the story that never ends hasn’t ended yet.


*Tuesday Talk rules with the new caveats apply.

**More than a decade ago, I admonished academics to “Take The Classroom Back,” recognizing that there would soon come a point in time when it was no longer viable to tell these consumers of education that they were just students.

10 thoughts on “Tuesday Talk*: Beyond Stanford, Are Law Schools Lost? (Update)

  1. Elpey P.

    Always interesting to see the moral hoarders indicate their support of mob mentality by blaming the targets for daring to acknowledge the irrational vitriol, or speaking the mildest of rebukes against it. Seems like an impulse with poor historical precedent. These folks may not be standard bearers of the same tradition they think they are.

    1. B. McLeod

      Well, they will have abundant opportunities for counter-speech in their careers at Starbucks.

  2. Mike V.

    For What It’s Worth, it is not just law schools. A university ordered it’s dental college I’m familiar with to expanded study hours. They did this despite knowing that students need to have a life outside school; and have to sleep sometime. 7am to 10pm weren’t sufficient for their desires so they whined and pouted and the University caved.

    Sadly, the students are running the institutions.

  3. orthodoc

    Dean Martinez is not so much “reviewing what transpired” but reviewing the public response and gaming out what needs to be done next. Dean Steinbach will be forced to walk the plank if Dean Martinez determines that her survival demands it, but only if so. (The wild card here is that the Stanford president is in the middle of his own battle for survival because of some allegations of academic dishonesty and he may need a diversion a la the air strikes President Clinton ordered when the Lewinsky story broke.)

  4. PK

    No it hasn’t been lost. That said, it hasn’t been “vocational school” since at least I was there. I was woefully ill-prepared to actually practice as a new grad. A lot of that is probably on me. Yet somehow I made it through and file and defend cases for businesses and people I don’t care about or believe in beyond a sense of professionalism in what I do. I had and have mentors that actually do things rather than sit in towers and pontificate. That helped.

    So* law school is a stepping stone to a sort of apprenticeship. Not much is lost, just shifted. I admit I’m trying to be optimistic about all of this. It very well could be so much worse that it’s not even providing a foundation to build on anymore. I wouldn’t know beyond a few current or recent students I’ve spoken to. Believe it or not, Pops, but they do online classes even now. That can’t be the same as doing it live. It just can’t.

  5. B. McLeod

    At the root of the inability to administer the school is the ABA’s vague accreditation standard that requires “concrete steps” to further diversity, equity and inclusion. This may mean that “DEI Officers,” currently being shed in numbers in the course of corporate cutbacks and layoffs, may nevertheless be the new untouchable shamans of law school staffs. Outside law schools, corporations have apparently come to the perception that DEI Officers are not contributing to profitability. This is always a risk with a hurriedly made-up function that carries no real qualifications. After watching for a couple of years as people drawing high salaries sat about downloading stock DEI tips and concepts from the Internet, it would naturally occur to corporate management that any copy clerk could perform this function. In the corporate world, the emperor’s clothes of DEI are no longer new. The premise upon which it was sold to them has not proved out.

    Still, in the Never-never Land of the law schools, we have the ABA, and the hat on the pole. DEI Officers are the ABA version of the political officer assigned to Soviet military units, or the Chairman’s nephew in the old days of corporate nepotism. Law deans have no practical.means of holding them accountable to follow policy, or for that matter, anything else.

  6. Rengit

    There’s a lot of focus on Judge Duncan’s behavior in this episode, but from what I can tell, he was curt, blunt, and somewhat arrogant. But isn’t this par for the course from judges? True that Judge Duncan was arriving at Stanford as a guest, rather than being charge of his courtroom, but I don’t think it’s unusual or even unjustified for a judge to behave rudely to people who are behaving rudely toward him, especially outside of the courtroom. During law school, we were taught to be especially respectful of judges, whether appearing in actual court for a clinic or internship or addressing the mock judges when we had mock trial. Does Stanford Law not bother to teach professionalism?

  7. KeyserSoze

    An old Devo tune has a chorus of: “I’m through with being cool\I’m through with being cool\Eliminate the ninnies and the twits…..”

    Something that should be considered for the protesters at Stanford Law. Immature, self centered assholes should be treated as such.

  8. Lex

    It’s debatable how much this is a factor, but:

    Median tenure of a Dean is 3 years. And less than ½ of T25 Deans had previous deaning experience. (Also, no are labor lawyers). The is far from the norm that existed 20 years ago.

    The Dean is the only person who can protect the school from the university, the faculty from each other, and students from themselves. And it’s hard to do that, or even know how, when you’re there barely more than a cycle.

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