The potential symbolism of the location seems to have been lost on the prosaic minds of the people who organize these kinds of things, who have put together a program that if anything pays even less attention to the fact that the house is on fire, and prefers to focus on whether the living room decor truly captures the spirit of Mid-Century Modern.
I've perused this 192-page document so you don't have to, and here's a complete list of everything in it that even alludes to the perilous state of legal education (perilous from the perspective of the people who pay the bills, of course. As Brian Tamanaha pointed out awhile ago, most law schools are still to external appearances doing "just fine" -- although not nearly as fine as they were doing a couple of years ago, before all the unpleasantness began):
Improving Student Well-Being Inside and Outside the Classroom
Moderator and Speaker: Robert P. Schuwerk, University of Houston Law Center
Speakers: Ken Brummel-Smith, M.D., Charlotte Edwards Maguire
Professor and Chair, Department of Geriatrics, The Florida State U U University College of Medicine, Tallahassee, FL
Susan S. Daicoff, Florida Coastal School of Law
Lawrence S. Krieger, Florida State University College of Law
Todd D. Peterson, The George Washington University Law School
Corie L. Rosen, Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law
Robin S. Wellford-Slocum, Chapman University School of Law
One or more presenters to be selected from Call for Papers.
This is a watershed moment for legal education. Law applicants, students and graduates confront a troubled legal market. Law schools, themselves targets of criticism, operate in atmospheres of hostility and distrust. Faculties, faced with declining law school applications and the budgetary constraints they impose, reassess the structure and value of their programs. This confluence of factors, albeit posing a challenge, also presents opportunity. If we were to reimagine legal education, what might we do to alleviate students’ well-documented distress, while at the same time better prepare them to navigate a changing legal marketplace?
Deaning in the “New Normal”
Moderator: David N. Yellen, Loyola University, Chicago, School of Law
Speakers: John Y. Gotanda, Villanova University School of Law
Wendy C. Perdue, The University of Richmond School of Law
Jennifer L. Rosato, Northern Illinois University College of Law
Frank H. Wu, University of California, Hastings College of the Law
Serving as a dean today is quite a different experience than it has been for most of the past two decades. To cite a few of today’s challenges:
1. Applications have declined considerably for two years
2. The job market remains weak, with some experts suggesting that this reflects not just
lingering effects of the recession, but rather a systematic restructuring of the profession
3. Law schools have received an unprecedented amount of negative publicity, on issues
including expense, the relevance of legal scholarship, and the quality of the training
we provide our students
4. A number of law schools have been sued, with more suits apparently planned
5. The U.S. News & World Report rankings continue to have a number of pernicious effects
In these circumstances, and with great changes in legal education potentially on the horizon, what does it mean to serve What are reasonable goals and expectations for someone considering a deanship?
Business Meeting at Program Conclusion.
AALS Presidential Program
2:00 - 3:45 PM
 Presidential Program
Law Schools and Their Critics
Law schools face intense criticism. The panel will examine the critiques and discuss what they mean for the legal academy.
Reignite and Renew: How to Rebuild Your Brand in a Down
Economy and Bad Press
Moderator: Michelle Allison, Thomas Jefferson School of Law
Speaker: Angela Dalfen, Golden Gate University School of Law
Standing out from other law schools has always been a primary marketing focus of most law schools. With a little over two hundred ABA-approved law schools from which prospective students may choose, distinguishing your school as “unique” is not always easy. Doing so can be more challenging when your school is faced with the reality of a struggling economy, less than optimal employment opportunities for your graduates and a barrage of bad publicity. This panel of law school professionals will discuss the impact these and other factors have had on the prospective student pool, their current student body morale and will discuss ways their school has retooled and revamped their image.
That's it. The conference features dozens of programs, and hundreds of speakers, but apparently no formal discussion of: the state of the job market for law graduates, the student debt crisis, the financial structure of legal education, the fight for transparency within the ABA, the ongoing collapse of applications to law school, or anything else that, as Sam Johnson observed, would tend to concentrate an attendee's mind (There is, to be fair, this stray sentence in the introduction to the day-long Presidential Program, which is dedicated to discussing "globalization:" "These choices [to focus on "globalization"] have rightly raised questions about the relevance to our students and to the practice of law of such undertakings as well as issues of resource allocation when law schools should worry about the rising cost of legal education and student debt." This is the only mention of student debt in the entire conference program).
Of course it's possible these things will be discussed in the ominously blank "Presidential Program" dedicated to the topic of law schools and their critics (I will be curious to find out if any critics will actually be participating in this discussion). And one would think they will inevitably come up in other sessions. But as it stands, this glossy program and the multi-million dollar conference it advertises are both monuments to the remarkable level of denial that still marks much of legal academia, especially in its most official bureaucratic self-representations.
I take it there will be another call for "hot topic" panels in the next few weeks, and although organizing that kind of thing (or anything else) isn't my strong suit I think I'm going to put together a proposal. It could be called -- just thinking out loud here -- Category Five.