Hoffman claims that David Segal and I "argue (ironically) that law schools are contributing to the problems of the legal profession by not raising higher barriers to entry." I don't know what would be "ironic" about that argument, but in any case I've certainly never made it, and if Segal has I haven't seen where (a link would be nice). Hoffman then proceeds to fantasize about the idiotic behavior that I, apparently egged on by the nefarious Mr. Segal, must engage in when students ask me for career advice, early in the fall of their first semester of law school:
Let’s say a student comes to your office hours early in the Fall semester. They are lost. Really, desperately, lost. They are working all the time, but they can’t see the forest, the trees, the continent, the planet. Law’s [G]reek to them. What to do? One view – let’s call this the Segal/Campos view – is that the morally right thing to do at that very moment is to 1) recognize that my livelihood depends on the students; 2) this puts me, like every provider of services, in a slightly compromised position when talking to a student about whether they ought to be in school; 3) realizing this, decide pretty quickly if I think that the student is a candidate for Bar passage and employment; 4) if not, tell the student that they’d be better off leaving school and pursuing other opportunities in today’s job market, or to take the Ayes-refund offer if it comes.Hoffman then goes on to congratulate himself for not being nearly as reckless and insufferably arrogant as law professors who make instantaneous judgments in an empirical vacuum when confused 1Ls ask them at the beginning of their first semester whether they should drop out of school. Unlike Campos and Segal (note Hoffman's reverie leads him to imagine not merely how badly I must do my job, but what a terrible law professor David Segal would be if he happened to be one) Hoffman would wait until at least the second semester before allowing himself to engage in a conversation with a student about whether he or she should stick it out, and he ("usually") wouldn't have that conversation without first engaging in "a pretty lengthy exploration of their goals, resources and capabilities."
That's very thoughtful of you, professor. Then what do you do? The answer is disconcerting. Hoffman claims that at this point he still doesn't have enough information to give students useful advice:
I know that I have very little information early in a student’s career that will meaningfully predict if they can earn a living as a lawyer. I will know something after the first semester about if they’ll get a job at a large law firm. But that’s a narrow slice of jobs for all law school graduates outside of all but 10-15 schools (or, more precisely 5-10% of law school graduates). What I don’t know about students is their motivation; their people skills; their social connections; their ability to bounce back. In short, I know almost nothing about their human capital.This is pretty mealy-mouthed. Hoffman more or less acknowledges that, after a student's first semester at Temple, it's possible to predict with some accuracy whether that student's odds of getting a big firm job have gone from slim to ("constructively," as lawyers say) none. This is actually an extremely important piece of information, which in my view ought to be conveyed to students who ask for it in tactful but otherwise unmistakable terms.
Furthermore, why doesn't Hoffman know about the student's social connections, given that those connections, along with first-year grades, are the most important considerations when trying to predict whether someone will earn a living as a lawyer? What exactly does Hoffman talk about with students during those "lengthy explorations of their goals, resources, and capabilities?".
But let's assume Hoffman believes what he's saying, and that he's genuinely in some sort of profound epistemological quandary when second-semester 1Ls who are doing badly ask him for career advice. One would think it would then follow that Hoffman would tell these confused and frightened young people that he just doesn't know enough about them, given the supposed unpredictability of the legal world, to give them useful advice. It turns out one would be wrong:
So I encourage most students to persevere, to stick to it, to work super hard, to postpone good times and return again to the books. I tell them that the Law School’s most successful graduates got bad grades. (True, if success means money earned.)(I would be very curious to know whether there's any evidence, either at Temple or any other law school, for this ubiquitous and highly counter-intuitive platitude about how C students end up getting rich. I would also be curious to know how this doesn't contradict on its face Hoffman's earlier admission that first-year grades are the key to getting high-paying jobs.)
It gets worse:
I sometimes tell them they are improving though they aren’t – but only if they seem to me to desperately need some solace. (I never tell them that about their practice exams, in case my current students are reading this – you’ll get only criticism from me in the service of better final performance.) I often tell people that hard work and caring more than other lawyers is the path to success, though I know that in life, social connections, being good looking/tall, and luck probably play just as much if not a larger role. In short, I try to be a supportive mentor as much as I can, though I know, in grim probabilistic terms, that some students would be better off cutting their losses.I've learned -- far too slowly -- over the course of two decades in legal academia not to be easily shocked, but still, as I've had more than occasion to remark in recent months. . . are you kidding me? Seriously professor? You lie to them? Because, incredible as it may be that this needs to be pointed out to you at this juncture in this particular scholarly exchange of views, that's what you're doing by your own admission!
Let me spell this out even more clearly: To continue this pseudo-Socratic dialogue, even here in Plato's Cave the shadows on the wall indicate that a whole lot of our students won't be able to make a living practicing law -- something which you readily acknowledge. How many is a whole lot? An excellent question! Do you have any idea how many recent Temple graduates have real legal jobs a year or two or three after graduation, or how much money they are or are not making, and how much debt they're carrying? If you don't, you ought to tell any student who asks precisely this: that you don't know the exact numbers, probably because, like almost everybody else in this business, you've made it your business not to know them, but that nevertheless you do know a lot of Temple students aren't going to be able to make a living practicing law at all, and that a lot of others who do have legal careers won't be able to pay their educational debts, and that (according to you) you simply don't know enough to predict with any tolerable degree of accuracy whether the student who is asking you for advice will be in either of those two categories.
This, according to you anyway, is the truth. Why should your students get less than that from you? Here's your answer:
I really am on the verge of being rendered speechless. Educational institutions are supposed to be about education -- about edifying people, and most especially young (i.e. relatively inexperienced, naive, trusting) people, by helping them see the world in clearer and more truthful terms than they did before they committed themselves to our trust. There are ten thousand places in this culture where people can be separated from their money by other people who are "selling [le mot juste!] the possibility of self-improvement." Universities are supposed to be about something else. That something else is above all what we owe to our students -- and for that matter to ourselves.
Should I feel bad that I encourage people who may not succeed? Should I start every conversation with a Vokesian disclaimer that is brutally frank about their current level of skill? I just don’t see it. That’s not, I think, what an educational institution is supposed to be about. We’re selling the possibility of self-improvement, and economic and social momentum. People need to believe in that possibility if they are to realize it: optimism actually makes people better, more competent, and more satisfied with their lives. There’s a corrosive cynicism in the “scamblogs” which would, I think, turn that idea on its head. We owe our students more.