One of the few legal academics who writes things that I have read voluntarily is a guy who 20 years ago was publishing scorched earth critiques in prominent law journals about the uselessness of doctrinal legal scholarship, the intellectual stultification of the typical law school classroom, the mind-numbing awfulness of legal practice in general and of being an associate in a big firm in particular, etc. etc. etc. He was an angry young man then, and got some attention from his elders, although even back in the day he was already considered to be "merely" rehashing the cls critique of the 1970s and early 1980s. This is how legal scholarship works by the way:
Angry young man: My path-breaking scholarship published in the top legal journals demonstrates conclusively that law school is at best an unnecessarily expensive waste of time and at worst a seriously brain-damaging ripoff.
Legal academic establishment: That's fascinating but it has already been demonstrated many times. But please do continue in this vein if you're so inclined.
In other words, in the context of something like legal academia -- that is, in the context of a fundamentally anti-intellectual and anti-vocational exercise in ideological legitimation and social sorting -- pointing out that legal academia is an intellectual and vocational joke just becomes part of an ongoing punchline. Criticizing something on the basis of standards that aren't applied to itself by the enterprise you're criticizing is as a practical matter a waste of time, which is why the still-angry no-longer-young professor's copious body of very well done critical scholarship has had exactly zero effect on the objects of his criticism.
Which raises the question of what exactly angry young men (and women) ought to be doing these days, besides writing law review articles that by their very nature are guaranteed to have exactly zero effect on anything. (I want to be clear on this point so I'll repeat it: Scholarship can have real-world effects within a social context that takes the idea of scholarship seriously, that is, which acknowledges the possibility that the achievement of certain insights could then actually require somebody to do something. Legal academia is at present not that sort of social context.)
Speaking of which in a couple of comment threads it's been suggested that somebody who holds the views I now hold ought to quit his job, or at least consider doing so. I think this is a valid issue to raise, although of course it's the kind of claim that is often made strategically, in order to shut down dissent. Several people have responded to this claim by pointing out that whistle blowing would never get far if whistle blowers listened to similar advice. And that's true. Still it seems rather odd to characterize this blog as involved in any sort of real whistle blowing. Almost everything I've said has been a matter of very public knowledge, after all. It's not as if the inadequacies of the law school classroom and of legal scholarship were exactly state secrets (see our angry young man above and his many predecessors et. seq.). The skyrocketing cost of legal education, the salaries and teaching loads of law faculty, the contraction of the job market, the unhappiness of lawyers, and by now even the techniques by which law schools cooked their all-too-obviously phony employment numbers are also largely matters of public record.
The only things I've said on this blog that could be considered whistle blowing in even a loose sense are a few comments on the work habits of legal academics, which is really a very marginal matter in the context of the present disaster. (After all who cares if the average law professor "works hard?" If you were to get served a long series of lousy meals at an expensive restaurant would you care how hard the chef did or didn't work? Indeed if the meal represents the chef's most honest effort that's only a better reason for firing him, since working harder at his craft obviously isn't going to do any good. Unfortunately for fancy restaurants that serve bad food at high prices there's no accrediting agency requiring people to keep eating there so they can stay in business).
The whistle blowing element of this blog has almost nothing to do with revealing hidden information. It's perceived as whistle blowing because, given the deeply hierarchical nature of the legal system in general and legal academia in particular, matters of public knowledge in a sense don't really count until somebody in a position of "authority" repeats them. (It was on the tip everybody's tongue. I just gave it a name). Now as authority figures go I'm far from ideal: it would be better if I were at an elite school, or if I were a dean, or best of all if I were both, but for reasons that are too obvious to belabor the higher up somebody is in the hierarchy the less likely they are to call any aspect of it into question (Imagine Duncan Kennedy as dean of HLS. Imagine Richard Posner on the SCOTUS. And so on). But still, I'm a tenure track law professor at a, for now at least, "first-tier" school who is pointing out that what the scam bloggers are saying is true, which in this business is pretty much the equivalent of Emma Goldman getting elected president of the Greenwich Junior League.
So one justification for continuing to cash my paycheck is that it's valuable to have somebody who knows what everybody already knows, but who is in a position to have it taken more seriously because people in his position never say what everybody already knows, to say it while staying in that position, as opposed to being a "disgruntled" former law professor saying the kind of stuff that disgruntled people can be expected to say. (I should add that a significant factor in all this is that the scam elements of law school have gotten much worse over the course of my career, and in addition I have only slowly allowed myself to become fully aware of them. I don't think I could have done what I'm doing now for the past 20 years, although I suppose I'm going to find out).
Another is that, in an admittedly minor way, I remain in a better position to exhort people inside the business to change the way we do things. And I'm trying to do that. Let's get practical, shall we?
Step One: Demand that your school release its real employment numbers, now.
Step Two: Demand that your school do what's necessary, now, to freeze or better yet roll back tuition.
My eyes are open. Are yours?