"I'm a law dean and I'm proud."
Thus began Lawrence E. Mitchell's gauzy hoo-rah of why legal education is still a terrific idea.
Well, I'm a legal writer, and I'm dismayed.
If you haven't read Mitchell's piece in the New York Times, you should.
It could become Exhibit 1 in the case against legal education, circa 2012. The Case Western Law School Dean and Joseph Hostetler – Baker & Hostetler Professor of Law is a law and economics professor who wrote "The Speculation Economy: How Finance Triumped Over Industry" and "If I Only Had a Heart: How to Identify a Corporate Morality."
He makes a couple good points. Legal education is a great tool and it can give one long-term options they would not otherwise have. (He fails to note that these days one has to pay off roughly $125K in debt through latte making or law library stocking before getting back on track to become chairman of Cravath or wherever.)
It's the debt, stupid.
It's the debt that's keeping aspiring lawyers from being able to learn about this pillar of our society and then go and get – or create (it's the new economy!) – a job in which they represent some of the millions of children, immigrants, entrepreneurs or just plain folks who need legal assistance and can't afford it.
Mitchell received a thorough first-round knockout from Elie Mystal of Above the Law, one of the misanthropes Mitchell fingers for creating all these problems in the academy. I'm pretty sure Mystal, a Harvard Law School graduate and Debevoise alum, calls Mitchell a "mouth breathing, drooling Honey Boo Boo idiot," for his treatment of statistics and numbers – and Mystal is right.
An alarming disconnect has emerged between many members of the legal academy and the unwashed masses who are called its current and recent students. And a little stroll through Dean Mitchell's resume could be called its Grand Canyon. After graduating from Columbia Law School in 1981, he held three posts in NY as a corporate lawyer, the last being at Paul Weiss, from April 1985 to June 1987. He then embarked on a career in legal academia, in which he has written extensively and taught in China. Helpfully, he notes his long list of recent media appearances, as well as his 'upcoming' appearance in the movie "Heist", with former American Airlines CEO Robert Crandall, among others. "Trailer available at www.heist-themovie.com."
Perhaps more to the point for the law students at Case Western is the anatomy of a successful law professor's resume. While mentioning (twice) that he's going to be in a movie, he also mentions his fundraising prowess, including $395K from The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to bring together faculty for the summer and $500K from The Ford Foundation to establish the Institute for International Corporate Governance and Accountability for scholars and businesspeople to establish conferences.
You know what's not on his resume? Jobs for students, tuition realignment or anything about the actual product of his teaching. And that's because Mitchell, like more than one legal scholar, does not view students and their contributions to society and the law as the primary fruits of his labors.
Helpfully, Law School Transparency keeps track of such numbers, including Case Western's recent graduating class, which has 46.3 percent of its grads placed in full-time law jobs not paid for by the school. It has an 'underemployment' score – generally unemployed students or employed by the school itself – of 37.8 percent. The estimated cost of a Case Western degree is $245,898; and your most likely employer is either a firm of 2 to 10 lawyers (11.9 percent) or the school itself (11.4 percent).
As JD Underground grumbled, it's "like a milk producer saying milk is healthy. Everyone knows a vegan diet is superior."