Buchanan employs the smarmy rhetorical device of not actually naming any of these critics, let alone quoting from, linking to, or otherwise referencing their supposedly defective arguments. Instead, his argument is long on bluster and painfully short on facts and analysis. He sounds, in short, like a parody of an arrogant, clueless law professor, talking about stuff he actually doesn't know anything about, while appealing to the self-evident truth of his assertions. Behold:
This raucous atmosphere might have the effect of reducing the number of people who are potentially interested in attending law school. We have, in fact, seen a pronounced drop in law school applications this year, which could certainly be a response to the idea that law school is nothing but a "scam" or a waste of students' borrowed money. Of course, there are multiple explanatory factors at work, most obviously the continued recession-level employment prospects for far too many law graduates. Potential students need not believe any of the nonsensical attacks on the case method, nor pay any heed to the false claim that law professors are writing useless articles, to conclude that their individual best choice today is to delay applying to law school (or even to choose never to attend).In fact both the number of people taking the LSAT and applying to law school have undergone major increases and decreases for decades now, in anything but a linear pattern. More LSATs were administered in 1990-91 than in any subsequent year until 2009-2010 (and the total number of takers 20 years ago may still be an all-time record, as changes in policy regarding the counting of multiple scores in the admissions process have greatly increased the number of people who take the test twice in the same cycle). "Recession-level employment prospects" for law graduates existed long before the current economic downturn. "Nonsensical attacks on the case method" (translation: cogent descriptions of both its pedagogical shortcomings and its ideological function) are almost as old the case method itself. Much the same could be said for the claim that "law professors are writing useless articles."
The rest of Buchanan's diatribe is in the same assertion-rich, evidence-and-argument-poor vein. I'll limit myself to noting a few of his more audacious gestures. Buchanan asserts that "it seems plausible to imagine that the current media hype itself is ultimately driven by little more than the state of the economy." This is the equivalent of someone pointing out during the Blitz that "it seems plausible to imagine that the current media hype is ultimately driven by little more than the fact that a lot of bombs are being dropped on London."
Obviously the only way someone can say something this absurd is if he simply doesn't have any grasp of either the depth of the employment and debt crisis law graduates are facing, or the fact that this crisis (as noted above) has been building for at least 20 years, and gives every indication of being here to stay. How many graduates of the GW class of 2011 have, nine months after graduation, six figures of high interest non-dischargeable educational debt and no real legal job? I'll bet you one million internet dollars that Prof. Buchanan hasn't the faintest idea what the answer to this question is, and that he has made no effort to find out. (Anecdotes are not data but I got an email from a GW grad last fall who had finished in the top 10% of the 2011 class and was still completely unemployed. And it's not an encouraging sign that the school managed to determine the salaries, if any, of only 36.7% of its 2010 graduates nine months after graduation, after gathering the same information for 67.9% and 58.5% of the classes of 2008 and 2009 respectively).
The most astonishing aspect of Buchanan's defense of legal education is that it contains literally not one word about cost versus benefit. You could read his stirring paen to how law schools are a bulwark of our civilization without ever getting the slightest inkling that it costs approximately $222,000 in tuition and cost of living to attend the law school that employs him (this figure ignores opportunity costs), and that there's no reason to believe that this staggering investment is going to make long-term economic sense for anything like a majority of current GW students, or for that matter future GW classes. Buchanan gives no hint that he's aware that law schools are pumping out at least two graduates for every legal job, that they've been doing so for decades now, that the price of attendance has increased by a factor of three to five over the past generation, that current 1Ls will average around $150K in educational debt by the time they graduate, and that in short there's a great deal of evidence that legal education in America is moving along a fundamentally unsustainable economic trajectory.
And here's the punch line: the author of this analysis-free analysis of the situation has a Ph.D. in Economics! (As a commenter points out Buchanan hasn't practiced law for a day in his life -- he's basically an econ prof who in mid-career re-made himself into a law prof. Under the circumstances, for him to pontificate on the practical value of traditional legal pedagogy seems a bit much).
Buchanan concludes that the real problem with criticisms of legal academia is that they provide support for yet more anti-intellectualism in American life:
If the current ugliness is not necessarily going to permanently reduce interest in legal studies among potential applicants, is the assault on law schools nothing to worry about? Definitely not. To me, the long-term damage is being done to the notion of the legal academy as an academic institution. Even if future applicants are not being permanently put off of legal education, the public at large -- and especially political players, many of whom are generally hostile to academic inquiry and intellectual freedom -- is being inundated with claims that legal academics are fundamentally out of touch and wasting time and money . . . The future of intellectual inquiry is at stake.I too am worried about anti-intellectualism in American life, but Buchanan's harangue does nothing but provide more ammunition for the belief that "legal academics are fundamentally out of touch and wasting time and money." If the future of intellectual inquiry is really at stake, it could use some defenders who show some interest in engaging in intellectual inquiry, as opposed to evidence-free posturing.