Volokh Debates Prof. Levinson’s Academe Advice

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Dina Awerbuch’s October 18th article, “Prof. Levinson Demystifies the Path to Legal Academia,” drew discussion on law blogs including the Volokh Conspiracy (www.volokh.com), Concurring Opinions (www.concurringopinions.com), and ELS talk (http://els-talk.blogspot.com). In particular, some took issue with Professor Daryl Levinson’s description of the current market:

Even practical legal experience is not a good predictor of scholarly ability, and, Levinson noted, “is pretty nearly disqualifying.” Levinson pointed out that today’s younger professors have no significant practical experience, and that if they tried to become involved in the world, “the world would probably recoil in horror.”

The Record’s coverage and Levinson’s comments, were intended to focus on descriptive advice to students about the current job market, and not commentary on whether current trends are positive. The Record has recently learned that Dean Elena Kagan is developing plans to make tenured appointments available to aspiring professors who come from practical lawyering backgrounds instead of having additional graduate degrees; we will cover these developments as more information is available.

Here, a few representative comments from the discussion at the Volokh Conspiracy, including Levinson’s own clarification on his comments:

Daryl Levinson: For what it’s worth, the Record’s summary is a bit misleading. The quote they used was taken from my parodic description of hiring trends at HLS in particular-where it is true that most (though not all) of the entry-levels hired over the past few years are PhDs without significant practice experience. This was in the broader context of my describing the general trend in legal academia away from the profession and towards the academy, and the concomitant decline in the number of entry-level hires who come with high-level practice experience (i.e., more than a few years in practice)-obviously not to zero. I actually expressed some doubt about whether this trend has been good for legal education. That’s certainly a point worth debating.

Lonely Capitalist:This is one of the biggest problems with law school. Too much useless theoretical BS. Professors should be required to have some practical experience before they are allowed to teach anything. If by practical experience Prof. Levinson means experience doing document review or experience trying to out-d-bag another lawyer over the phone to win a discovery dispute, then I’d hope that that sort of thing would be counted as a negative. I don’t want a professor whose main qualification is the ability to manipulate people (though the doc review might be similar to the process of grading exams)…. If, however, Prof. Levinson is disparaging the experience of drafting legal briefs and arguing points of law to judges, then I’d have to disagree with him there and hope that his views aren’t representative of hiring committees.

Larry Rosenthal:Professor Levinson’s statements accurately describe the philosophy prevalent among law schools today, especially those considered elite. Isn’t this remarkable? The vast majority of students, at Harvard and elsewhere, are paying a small fortune to learn how to practice law, and yet those who teach the most important courses have no idea what it takes to succeed in the practice of law. Surely the market will eventually punish law schools who willfully — even proudly — ignore the legitimate needs of their tuition paying students. Larry Rosenthal Chapman University School of Law

Dilan Esper:I believe the line was “The life of the law has been theory, and it takes a theory to beat a theory.”

I am not sure if that’s what Holmes said, but I think Professor Levinson is about to go on a fundraising campaign to buy more ivory for his law school’s tower.

Cornellian:Some law schools could use a few more clinical courses, but I’m fine with the heavily theoretical focus of the elite law schools. I attended one of them and I don’t feel I was shortchanged. If you want a law school that will spend 3 years teaching you how to pass the bar exam, there are places that will cater to that.

Roger Rainey:Speaking as a practitioner and not a professor, the strange refusal for the academy to value professional experience in the hiring of professors leads to the growing irrelevancy of legal academic thought to the legal world – a truly odd and undesirable result. I don’t have studies but I feel confident that, adjusted for population and number of cases, scholarly legal articles are cited far less than in the past. I am a corporate lawyer and, while I once found looking at law review artcles illuminating, I now find them useless.

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