PRINT PAGEUM Law School: Part 3

Written by Roy Black

The continuing discussion over the vision and direction of the law school has been illuminating and a lot of fun. I think there is a lot of discontent out there and it is time for that discontent to have a voice on legal education. It is too important to leave up to the professionals.

The law school has been devolving (more politically correct than “death spiral” for the overly-sensitive), and it is time for reform and to reverse direction. The school has to be held accountable for its final product: the legal ability of the lawyers it graduates. The traditional approach to legal education isn’t working. Phil Hubbart told me at the beginning of my career that you either get better or worse because you never stay the same.

One point first. My rebuttal argument was just that, not a whiny complaint over criticism. I used it as a rhetorical device to keep the subject matter alive. When a lawyer gives a rebuttal final argument adducing new evidence or points, it is considered good form, not a weakness.

For those who suggest I am too thin skinned or can’t handle criticism, I must point out that I have litigated for 40+ years against the SAO, US Attorney, DOJ, FBI, DEA, ATF, IRS, FTC and even the CIA. Worse than all that was litigating against Carhart, Laeser, O’Donnell, Sharpstein and even the mighty Dick Gerstein himself. Any sensitivity I had to criticism was long ago beaten out of me. Criminal law is not for the faint of heart. I bow only to Rumpole who no doubt has suffered hotter electronic fires (however I did suffer the hellfire of Maximum Morphonios in her prime.).

Now back to the substantive issues.

I suggest a compromise – bifurcate the last two years. Let the school continue as is on the UM campus, but build a litigation division downtown near the courthouses. After the first year, the students who want to be litigators move there. It would be more convenient for practicing lawyers to teach than it is now. Students will be within walking distance and able to watch the courts in action.

The school should have an appellate courtroom and let the Third District hear cases there a couple of times a year. The rest of the building should be full of smaller teaching courtrooms. Right now the school has one bare-bones inadequate courtroom.

It should have at least one courtroom designed with the latest electronic devices and keep it on the cutting edge. I went to William and Mary Law School some 20 years ago and they had already started a courtroom like this. They have a division called The Center for Legal and Courtroom Technology, which is best known for the McGlothlin Courtroom. They call it the world’s most technologically advanced trial and appellate courtroom. CLCT’s primary mission is “to improve the world’s legal systems through the appropriate use of technology.”

In addition to teaching litigation, the school conducts special trials each year. This is from their website:

“We conduct experimental trials, or laboratory trials annually that test the innovative use of technology for dispute resolutions. Our case simulations are the closest thing we can produce to the real world. In conducting lab trials, the Center often works with major national organizations such as the Justice Department and the Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We frequently use the assistance of the Courtroom 21 Participating Companies and Organizations that support us through the loan of equipment and expertise. Students serve as counsel and distinguished federal and state judges preside over lab trials. Our experimental mediation used a noted retired Delaware judge and professional mediator. These trials often involve other universities; in the past, for example, we worked with affiliated programs at the University of Leeds, England, and the Queensland University of Technology, Australia. Lab trials are often tied to the Law School’s courses that teach the use of technology for attorneys.”

They are light years ahead of us despite being located in Williamsburg, Virginia, far from any litigation center. Imagine what could be done in Downtown Miami. We should be the leaders in legal technology. This city is packed full of trial consultants and technology companies who would be dying to participate.

I am not suggesting a trade school or “real world training.”  I am suggesting intense training in trials to become a litigator.

The Business of the Law

A young lawyer suggested a wonderful idea. A course dedicated to the business of the law. How to conduct the business of a law firm. It is about time for that. He suggested Cesar Alvarez, who would be a perfect fit. And this brings me to the next point. I bet we could find a law firm to underwrite the new litigation division. Since Greenberg had revenues of $1.2 billion last year, perhaps they would be interested and it could be called the Greenberg Traurig School of Litigation.

The Bar Exam

There is always a lot of angst about the pass rate for each school on the bar exam. I have a radical solution. Abolish the bar exam. It is worthless. It doesn’t test legal skills. If it did everyone who passed would be ready to practice law. Just like medical and dental students are ready for their professional work. Since the test fails in its most important function, why waste time, money and effort on it?

Resources

So how are we going to pay for all this? The law school is a cash cow used by the university to fund other programs which don’t carry their weight. The New York Times quoted Case Western law dean Lawrence Mitchell: “If my president were to say ‘We’ll never take more than 10 percent of your revenue,’ I’d say ‘God Bless you,’ and we’d never have to talk again.” The Times estimated that the so-called law school tax was 25% to 30% but it maybe a lot more.

At the University of Baltimore, popular School of Law dean Phillip Closius was forced out after clashing with administrators over law school finances. Closius wrote a public letter to the faculty and students accusing the university of taking 45% of law school-generated revenue to use for non-law school purposes.

The University President Robert Bogomolny counter-claimed that the university took less than 14% of law school-generated revenue. This reminds me of the quip about Hollywood –  the most creative people are the accountants. No matter which number we use, obviously a lot of money flows out of the law school budget and hinders the ability to pay for top law professors and programs.

No matter how you look at it, we are underwriting the education of doctors and computer majors. This has gone on for decades and bleeds the law school of resources needed to upgrade the education. It is time to stop these skewed economics. Perhaps the law school should leave the university system and become a private stand-alone institution. I am sure there are good reasons this can’t be done but we ought to threaten it as part of our demand to keep funds at the law school.    And when the school seeks donations as a prerequisite we should demand action on this “tax.”

The Rankings

Law School rankings are certainly controversial. Any ranking system is open to criticism. It is an inexact science at best, and pure guesswork at worst. But it is all we have right now to measure a school’s effectiveness.

Part of the US News formula for its ranking is expenditures per student. This is the sum spent on teacher salaries, library and other educational expenses, divided by the number of students. If we give away 25% or more of tuition, how can we possibly increase expenditures per student? Even if you hate the idea of rankings, you must agree that expenditure per student is a legitimate barometer.

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6 Comments to UM Law School: Part 3

  1. young lawyer's Gravatar young lawyer
    August 10, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

    The young lawyer is a SHE and not a he. =)

  2. UM Law Student's Gravatar UM Law Student
    August 16, 2011 at 12:09 am | Permalink

    The plan was to have the law school move downtown by 2012. That plan was scrapped and they’re building one or two “courtrooms” on campus. The move downtown would’ve been ideal and put UM in the heart of the legal community opening up a world of opportunties. Plus, on a side note students would be able to avoid US1 🙂

  3. Andrew's Gravatar Andrew
    August 18, 2011 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Two comments:
    First, concerning law schools it’s not just a problem with what’s taught, it’s a problem with how it’s taught. Law professors have essentially ignored 130 years of education research; most law professors seem to enter academia after a few short years of practice or clerkship, and are frequently not competent to teach the practice of law. A great article on the subject can be found at: http://works.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1000&context=jason_dolin (“Opportunity Lost: How Law School Disappoints Law Students, The Public, and the Legal Profession”).

    Second, as commentators elsewhere have noted, law schools function as profit centers for their respective universities. As long as the money keeps coming in, and law school administrators and law professors are able to keep their extremely well-paid, low stress jobs (law professors used to teach 5 courses a semester; it’s down to about 2 or 3), it’s easy to convince themselves that there is no flaw in the legal education system.

    Third, the “tax” paid to law school’s home universities is disgraceful, but I don’t know if spinning them off would do much. Independent law schools tend to have the same problems as the university-affiliated ones. New York Law School and Brooklyn Law School for example have some of the highest tuitions in the country.

    • Andrew's Gravatar Andrew
      August 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      Typo; that should have read “three comments.” I may be a lawyer, but even I am not THAT bad at math.

  4. 305's Gravatar 305
    August 31, 2011 at 10:55 pm | Permalink

    The adjunct faculty at the University of Miami School of Law are outstanding. Working only part time and paid next to nothing these faculty are motivated by the desire to teach young people the law. If only these adjunct faculty members were given some of the advantages that the tenured faculty have, I can only imagine the kind of teaching talent that the University of Miami could recruit and where the school might rank.
    With less time to prepare to teach, the adjunct faculty present consistently a great teaching product. Prof. Black, Prof. Milt Hirsch, Prof. Coffey, Prof. Ramirez, Prof. Barkett, Prof. Muir, Prof. Alan Greenstein, and many of the faculty involved in the Lit. Skills program (Edith Georgie, esp.) led by Prof. Rose show to their students that they are relevant and have mastered their field. There are some smart administrators like Dean Van DerWyden and Dean Lennon who have an eye for talent and hire a solid supporting staff. There may be some other names at the School of Law who deserve to be recognized and may stand up and be noticed as the time comes to address the challenges the school faces.
    Even in Miami the school faces competition from other well respected universities in the area. FIU must be considered a very serious threat in the future with its low cost tuition, ability to compete for the best local students, and ability to compete for the best faculty. The UM School of Law must figure out a way to deliver value above what it is delivering now and lower the relative cost of tuition. This is especially important for local students. Substituting out of state students who can afford the tuition bills who have no plans of residing in the state for the students who used to come from South Florida and the State of Florida only means that down the road the judge or attorney, deciding a case or whom he or she should hire may choose a Golden Panther, Gator, Seminole or a student from any of the other schools who are up and coming in the state instead of a Hurricane.
    Students pay for new edition casebooks that cost 200 dollars, health center fees, parking passes, wellness center, activity, and athletic fees all added on to a tuition bill of 20,000 dollars per semester. Students are paying all of this in exchange for an education and reputation that was built decades ago by faculty some of who are since retired and sustained by students who have walked out of the same university buildings and into the courtrooms of South Florida.
    The tenured faculty who I have seen try to appear like they are still relevant have done so by adopting what they must think are young people’s attitudes: dressing like slobs or mistakenly adopting what they think are kid’s fashions, misusing technology, and deflecting questions away that are outside of a narrow and fixed knowledge base or research specialty. If you were to read through the list of upper level courses offered this fall you would be hard pressed to find more than 4 or 5 practical bread and butter courses. This is especially true as a third year student who may have exhausted the core upper level curriculum in his or her second year.
    There are a few tenured professors who are consistently popular with students like Prof. Urice and Prof. Jones, whose classes always fill up nearly instantly. The great professors aren’t deemed great by students because of what they did at Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, or what they did as a judicial clerk, but by what they bring to the table every day. Are they as well prepared as the students? Certainly Michael Graham can teach Evidence blindfolded having written many books on the subject, but what is he doing teaching a subject like Torts where it is apparent he hasn’t read the case assigned for the day’s lecture in years? Letting the capable tenured faculty do what they do best and making better hiring decisions will go a long way to improving their performance.
    The few popular tenured professors teach 2nd and 3rd year classes from what I have seen, and the least popular professors (Kenneth Casebeer, Dennis Lynch, etc.) who students know to stay clear of are assigned to the enthusiastic 1st year students who have no choice in the matter.
    What many students who came to law school interested in ideals and justice take away from a miserable 1st year experience with out of touch professors, is despair that the system is broken and that there is too much to overcome to ever fix it. Beginning lawyers are starting out already feeling defeated because they have seen that it is the people gaming the system or free-riding that seem to be locked in positions of authority. Students who have not been taught well may not be aware that outside of the confines of academia in the State of Florida, the decision makers (judges), are subject to voter recall.
    Many of the advances touted for the future or which have gone on at the school have been superficial. Flat screens in the student lounge, a new gym with higher fees, security guards riding around on brand new Segways, free coffee and sweets to encourage face time with administration, and bragging to campus tours about a Nintendo Wii videogame system that I never saw as a student, only goes so far.
    It is no coincidence that Roy Black picked up on a theme he had observed in person and only a few weeks later the National Media and Yahoo sports have shined a light on. Observation is one of those things Mr. Black takes pride in and writes about.
    The UM leadership has been good at raising money, but terrible and misguided in where it has chose to spend it, and certainly many of its decisions and hires have to be called into question.
    If Mr. Black’s column had been written after the Nevin Shaprio bomb dropped you could easily accuse Mr. Black of piling on, exaggerating the situation, or more, but there is no better I told you so than having the entire nation right now calling into question the University of Miami leadership. The good thing is that there are enough people with good ideas that care about this University that it will not be held down for long. Miami has the ability to instantly turn around.
    The man hired to take over the UM football program has found out he has a bigger challenge than he ever anticipated. So far he has given every indication that he is ready to accept that challenge. I hope the School of Law will see that it faces as big a challenge as the football team.
    A product of the Paterno program as a player and a man who did the amazing as coach of Temple, Coach Golden makes me uncomfortable with his clichés, coachspeak, and repetitious discussion of core values without ever enunciating what those are. My hope is that he will listen to the right people and figure out which local people to go to for advice, and is biding his time before he can elaborate on his vision for the program’s future. As great a coach as Paterno was, his Penn State team has not been consistently in the hunt for the national championship despite an impressive stadium, enormous alumni base, and rich recruiting region. The national media have been uncritical as long as Paterno, even if only figurehead remains at the head. Miami with coach Golden has greater expectations and a recent track record of success and anyone in a leadership position at Miami must embrace those expectations and the criticism that will inevitably come with it.
    Golden’s first press conference made me think he had won over the decision makers having internalized in the few days before his interview with Pres. Shalala and Kirby Hocutt the best selling business leadership manual of the moment. Whether he had read these books or had attended a leadership seminar at the Holiday Inn Express was not initially clear. Golden endlessly recited how he would instill his core values into his student athletes, and how the school was a top 50 academic institution, but the guy sounded like someone who’s first visit to South Florida was to interview for one of the highest profile jobs in the region. Kirby Hocutt, former athletic director, put his tail between his legs and ran back to Texas to take a job at Texas Tech, perhaps the 4th or 5th best athletic program in the state of Texas. The University of Miami can’t afford to be the 4th or 5th best in the State of Florida at anything.
    The School of Law has had its own mini Nevin Shapiro in some ways in celebrity forensic accountant Lew Freeman. The FBI raided his office in early October. On Oct. 15, a federal receiver his Coconut Grove-based Lewis B. Freeman & Partners to liquidate the assets, sell the office space, and take claims from former clients.
    Even while under Investigation with the FBI, Lew Freeman was the name sponsor of a UM Law Center for Ethics and Public Service Lecture taking place October 20, 2009, a flyer of which was sent out to all the law students.

    The scheduled event was not suspended as far as I know. The NCAA is a little stricter than the law of the land, and the Law School would never have been more than just slightly embarrassed by any photo ops like the one of Pres. Shalala and Mr. Shapiro. I have great hopes for the University of Miami and its School of Law. I believe in the people who love the institution and support it at a time where it needs to move in the right direction.

  5. Joseph Frazier's Gravatar Joseph Frazier
    September 1, 2011 at 12:54 am | Permalink

    Two interesting articles with links that I think people might enjoy reading in light of the discussion. From The Wall Street Journal and Slate.

    Pleading Poverty: Colleges Want Parents to Foot the Bill for Their Largess
    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122844276224181879.html

    Finishing School
    The case for getting rid of tenure.
    By Christopher Beam
    http://www.slate.com/id/2263348/pagenum/all/

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