A number of people have asked for a post about specialty programs. Here's an e-mail on the subject:
Hmmm . . . how common is this sort of thing? That's a very good question.Law Prof: You have probably noticed this phenomenon but I've not seen you write on it so I will pass along a few thoughts. It's not related to anything you have posted recently so its really not appropriate as a comment on your blog.Looking at the Penn State Law School website a few days ago I noticed that it highly touts its "Law and International Relations" program. Now I may not know the current legal job market very well (I retired from the profession and attended law school in the '70's) but I'm not stupid. I know that the chances a graduate of a mid-market state school in the hills of central PA making a career in "international relations law," if such a field exists, which I doubt, or any other kind of "international law" are approximately zero. According to LST one 2011 PSL grad got a job outside the US and exactly four got jobs at firms of more than 250 lawyers -- i.e. firms that might conceivably have international clients. So what in the hell is going on?The answer, I think, is that this program is bait to lure starry eyed 0L's nearly all of whom, in my experience, say they want to practice "international law." Once they realize they have no chance of a career in the field -- i.e. on their first contact with the actual legal job market -- they are already hooked. Such a program also gives the faculty something more high toned to teach than, say, torts and adds a bit of prestige to what was until recently Exit 226 School of Law. Whatever the value of such programs at HYS or Georgetown, at a mid ranked state school like PSL they are worse than useless. And whatever they dreamed of as undergrads, by graduation, most PSL grads will be happy to get a full time job processing bodily injury claims for an insurance company in Harleysville PA.So I propose a rule of thumb for 0L's. If a non-elite school offers a program in "international law" (or public interest law, sports law, entertainment law or any of the other fantasy careers so beloved of 0L's) you should take it as evidence that the school is more interested in separating you from your tuition dollars than in training you for an achievable career.BTW: is this scam common in your experience?
Here's the scientific methodology employed by the folks at US News to construct their specialty rankings, so widely cited by the schools who are listed in them:
Specialty rankings: These specialty rankings are based solely on votes by legal educators, who nominated up to 15 schools in each field. Legal educators chosen were a selection of those listed in the Association of American Law Schools Directory of Law Teachers 2009-2010 as currently teaching in that field. In the case of clinical and legal writing, the nominations were made by directors or members of the clinical and legal writing programs at each law school.General observations:
Those programs that received the most top 15 nominations appear and are numerically ranked in descending order based on the number of nominations they received as long as the school/program received seven or more nominations in that specialty area. This means that schools ranked at the bottom of each law specialty ranking have received seven nominations.
(1) A lot of law schools have "areas of programmatic strength" where the ratio of faculty members in that area to graduates in a typical class who get a job in that area is greater than one to one. Later this month law school faculties will have beginning of the year meetings which will feature arguments about what the appointments committee should be doing this year. Since the sensible answer -- nothing -- is probably still not going to be on the table at most schools, there will be the usual fights about what sort of people to hire, with arguments made for how we need to bolster our strength in X.
Question that never gets asked in this context: How many graduates of this school get a job working in X? Answer to question that never gets asked: We don't actually know, but here are a couple of anecdotes confirming that there are real career opportunities in the field of international environmental sports law, with an emphasis on the rights of indigenous peoples.
(2) No one has specialty programs in what the vast majority of law school graduates do. Is there a specialty program anywhere in insurance defense law? How about The Law of Personal Injury Litigation? For that matter, is there one clinic or journal or even a class among the 200 ABA-accredited law schools dedicated to exploring the considerable complexities of running a solo law practice? Seriously, is there? Has anybody on the tenure track faculty of a law school ever been a solo? I'm sure there must be at least one person somewhere out there . . . Maybe at North Dakota? I bet he's a funny-looking guy . . . You betcha!
(3) Speaking of PSU, this is from the morning paper:
According to the university, the number of applicants has dropped from a high of 5,326 in 2010 to 3,458 for the 2012 school year. Likewise, about 170 students are expected to start this fall, compared with about 185 in 2011.I bet. Another topic worth discussing in more detail are the strategies schools are using to fill seats that won't be filled by increasingly "sophisticated consumers" of JD degrees. But that's for another day.
Director of Communications Ellen Foreman said the school has been engaged in internal discussions about the best way to respond. That includes reducing class size “so that we continue to have students of superior credentials and so that our graduates have a greater probability of securing meaningful work upon graduation.”
“At the same time, we are enlarging the scope of our high quality educational programs other than (juris doctorate) legal education, such as our (master of laws) program and shorter term professional education programs for U.S. and foreign judges, lawyers and other professionals,” she said. “Exactly how we implement and achieve this reduction is an open question still under discussion.”
Update: At least one former law professor seems to have taught a course on the highly esoteric subject of practicing law. Not surprisingly, the subject matter was considered inappropriate by many of his colleagues.