UM Law School: Part 3

August 8, 2011 Law Schools

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?


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.