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July 27, 2012

Op-ed by UC Irvine law dean about law school criticisms

by dan rodriguez


I’ll have more to say soon about the broad-scale critique of Professor Brian Tamanaha in his interesting recent book, Failing Law Schools.  For now, I would just note that the core matter goes missing in both the book and Dean Chemerinsky’s typically articulate explanation of the predicament faced by law schools in controlling cost.  This matter is:  What is the mission of the law school in question?  It cannot be that UCI’s mission is merely to be an elite law school (or, as the dean puts it precisely, “top 20”).  This, frankly, is not a credible mission; it is an aspiration tied, sadly, to a rankings game over which law schools have little control.

Explanation of why UCI, Northwestern, or any other law school functions the way it does must be grounded squarely in the larger, more concrete, objectives of the law school.  Like the objectives and strategies themselves, the explanations must be mission-driven.  For all their flaws, contemporary critiques of the educational and financial model of law schools are valuable in pushing all of us toward articulating transparently what we are looking to accomplish and how the present model, albeit with important modifications and with due regard to the shifting terrain of legal practice and economic conditions, supports or impedes these goals.

Insofar as we grapple with these questions, we’ll shed more light than heat on these difficult, important subjects.

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