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Monday, March 07, 2005
  Two Views : Here's the thing. UW Law school is a state school serving a wide range of constituencies. But it can't be all things to everybody. Two views. I can't figure out how a single law school can satisfy both of these people.

A dual-degree student had this to say by e-mail:

[M]y ideas about reforming law school are probably a bit more radical than what you have in mind. Frankly, I would rework law school entirely to make it more amenable to people who do not work in firms after they graduate.

As far as I am concerned, the entire law school experience is geared towards programming you to go into a firm....The grading system is curved so that firms can say things like "Top 1/3 of the class." You are pushed into things like Moot Court, journals (and there is even a pecking order within the various journals), and clinicals. The services at the career center are almost entirely focused towards getting you a firm job (well, okay, maybe some type of government job). The diploma privilege channels you into typical bread-and-butter law classes. And the price of law school almost guarantees that you will seek out that high-paying firm job right out of school.

In my grad school experience, you basically get at least a B if you make an effort. You get an AB if you try a bit, and an A if you work hard. That's it. No fighting for that extra point to push you to a 90 instead of an 89. To me, grad school has been much more rewarding because I am learning for the sake of learning without the pressure of grades. (Emphasis added.)

A view to the contrary is captured in this comment from Eric, who originally posted it here (in a discussion on alumni contributions). Whereas the student above would let each individual pursue their eclectic interests, he would characterize that as a wasteful diversion of resources into non-job-related areas:

The problem a number of alums have, and I have spoken with some from classes well before mine, is that resources at UW tend to flow to very niche areas with influential faculty. Now that's not all bad, and I suspect neither is it unique, but at UW those niche areas are not the areas that will improve the school's "ranking." The general concern from alums that are in larger firms (out of state) is that money they give will go to these niche areas, in one way or another, without building up teaching areas that would better prepare UW students for job searches that focus on out-of-state private firms. (Emphasis added.)

Eric sums up his opinion this way:
[K]eep in mind that as more UW law students go on to positions of prestige, publicity and power (which does NOT mean they're not also helping people or the world), the more the value of your degree increases.
These are both friends of mine. Sadly, neither of them sound even remotely satisfied will the current state of the UW Law School.
Comments:
I think I like Eric's take on this one. I'd be pretty concerned about someone who earned a JD without having taken the "bread and butter" law courses. And heaven forbid we be allowed to learn about the business world at the UW Law School. But what do I know? I'm not in the top third of the class so I'll probably end up working as a high class goat call-girl someplace in northern Wisconsin. What's a goat call-girl?
 
Brian,

I wouldn't say I was dissatisfied with my experience at UW, I was just saying that it could have been better. If I were king, there would be a lot of changes to UW's legal education, but that doesn't mean I didn't like some of what went on there.

Let me give you a very small suggestion for a change: I would recommend a mandatory class on statutory interpretation. This class would discuss the legislative process (as I am sure the Legislation class currently does), but then I would go on to discuss canons of statutory contruction/interpretation. The class could have a large dose of theory with very very important practical implications. I would make it a one or two credit class in the Spring. It doesn't even need to run the entire semester, maybe just 10 weeks. Believe me, there wouldn't be a more useful class in the first year.
 
As a top 1/3-moot court-law review recent grad, I feel a steep learning curve as a big-firm litigator. If this is what UW Law is steering its graduates towards, then they ought to prepare us slightly differently. Maybe a "Litigation Strategies" elective that would teach cover some basic information, such as how to serve somebody, drafting complaints and discovery, etc.
 
Nice to hear from y'all.

Eric and Steve, I cannot BELIEVE that you let goat call-girl pass with comment.
 
The luxury of learning for the sake of learning works if:

1) Your parents pay your tuition and living expenses

2) You have a trust fund

3) You have 3-year fullride scholarship, or

4) You have no spouse or children to support

For those of us for whom the above do not apply, and who also pay out-of-state tuition, the focus on big firm jobs is a blessing not a curse.
 
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So I just saw that my "learning for the sake of learning" rant hit this blog. Probably too late to mean anything, but here is my response.

Alas, like Ryan, I have neither a trust fund nor rich parents who have paid for my out-of-state tuition and living expenses. Oh, and no full ride scholarship (or even partial one, for that matter). (But touche on the no-spouse-or-kids point. Kids change all priorities, but that is a discussion for another blog.)

It seems to me there is more that one can do with a law degree (and get paid a decent wage *and* support a family) than to work for a firm. Why should law school be so heavily geared towards sending you to one? Should only those people who want to work for a firm go to law school?

I would advocate for more room in the curriculum for those who intend to do legal work when they leave law school but who do not necessarily see themselves going into a firm.
 
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