One thing that's struck me about the reaction to this little project from legal academics is the almost complete absence of any substantive defense of American legal education in its present form. Consider this post from Paul Horwitz, which appears to confess under the equivalent of rhetorical torture that signing the Law School Transparency Petition might be worth considering. Horwitz doesn't like the tone of my posts, which is hardly surprising, but what's remarkable is that his criticism of the substance of this blog adds up to "nothing that Campos is saying is really new." And I'm happy to take quasi-judicial notice of that fact. It's true: lots of people before me -- going back for many decades even -- have pointed out with great eloquence and fervor that law school tends to be intellectually vacuous and teaches people very little about practicing law. The only new element to this critique is that the combination of the skyrocketing cost of going to law school with the ongoing contraction of the market for high-priced legal services has made the all-too-glaring defects of American legal education much less tolerable to those who are (literally) bearing the costs of those defects.
The "defense" of American legal education, to the extent it exists at all, tends to take the form of a kind of Platonic ideal of pure denial, such as in this anonymous comment to Horwitz's post: "That there are some 'people who feel scammed by law school' does not mean they have actually been scammed, and so far neither Campos nor anyone else has explained why the feelings are justified." Seriously professor? (I'm guessing this is a law professor -- again, who else can you possibly imagine saying something like that?).
I was talking to a recent law grad the other day who attended not one but two top tier law schools. He transferred from the first in part because he was shocked by how bad the teaching was, only to discover that his new school was even worse. As an undergraduate he attended a a well-known liberal arts college, and he estimates that 95% of the classes he took there were good to excellent. I asked him how many of his law school classes came up to that standard, and he told me that two had. He said that four-fifths of his classes were complete wastes of time, a few others were pretty poor but very occasionally had moments where something worth learning was touched on, and two were actually good (This is someone with a superb overall academic record, who was on full merit scholarships in both college in law school, and who had substantial law-related work experience before going to law school. He tells me that if law school hadn't been free he would have quit as soon as he realized that, in comparison to his undergraduate experience, it was a bad joke).
Yes, anecdotes are not data, but how many anecdotes have you ever heard from people who thought they got their money's worth from law school in terms of either intellectual value or vocational training? (And I'm talking about people who went to law school before it cost $200,000, in an economy with one new position for every two law school graduates). I went to what in retrospect was a terrific law school, comparatively speaking, and I had a half dozen good classes in three years. (I learned next to nothing about practicing law of course). In fact just about the only people who ever seem to have much of a good word for their overall law school experience are law professors. What does that tell you?
Here's a simple, straightforward question for the defenders of the status quo: Who is willing to defend the proposition that, under current circumstances, the third year of law school is worth the money? (Recently I ran into an article in the Harvard Law Review from the 1920s pointing out that the third year in particular was a total waste of time, which only seemed to exist because someone had decided that law school should be three years rather than two.) I'm genuinely curious if anyone in legal academia is willing to step up to the plate on this one. Because in my experience even the most fervent establishment types will admit that the third year should be dispensed with altogether, or at least transformed into an externship/residency experience of some sort. That's where we are today: the most enthusiastic cheerleaders for the present system pretty much admit that at a minimum a full third of the money and time students are required to invest in that system has no real justification. And yet these very same people will express deep puzzlement when law graduates with hundreds of thousands of dollars of educational debt and no job prospects report that they "feel scammed by law school."