How Do Law Schools Teach Their Teachers?

The December 4, 2007 edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a forthcoming book by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.   The book, The Formation of Scholars: Rethinking Doctoral Education for the Twenty-First Century, “take[s] stock of the current state of doctoral education and how it has responded to, or ignored, the challenges of the 21st century,”   according to the Chronicle (full article available here; subscription required).   The study revists some of its findings made in an earlier report:

In his 1990 book Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest L. Boyer, who was then president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, analyzed the balance between teaching and research in the scholarly endeavors of that era. His conclusion that the university rewarded research at the expense of teaching set in motion a series of reforms that sought to re-emphasize teaching as an integral component of scholarship.

Seventeen years later, the Carnegie Foundation has again found academe lacking. This time, however, higher education’s most prominent advocates for teaching and teaching reform say that the research has been overlooked.

I couldn’t help but read this and ask, how well do law faculties balance teaching and research?   In law schools, do we emphasize research (“scholarship” in law school-speak) over teaching?   Where do service and collegiality fit in?   The faculty appointments process can be revealing.   What do we communicate in our evaluations of candidates?   Do we read their work carefully?   Do we review their teaching evaluations (if  any)  carefully?   Do we “count” their professional service?   What impresses us?   What does not?   When we speak on behalf of a particular candidate and praise her or his teaching (or scholarship or service), do we inappropriately prioritize teaching (or scholarship or service)?   What message does that send to existing colleagues who do (or do not) prioritize teaching (or scholarship or service)?   What do we communicate in the appointments to our potential future colleagues?   Once the new colleagues  actually join our ranks, what do we communicate to them, whether explicitly or implicitly, about the relative importance of teaching, scholarship and service?

Every law school has its own unique culture that assigns these commitments relative weights.   According to popular stereotype, the more highly-ranked the school is, the more likely that scholarship will be valued over teaching or service.   Admittedly, stereotypes do not necessarily reflect reality – a particular school’s relative emphasis does not necessarily bear a relationship to its so-called prestige level.   And at any particular school at any particular time, the three-dimensional pendulum may swing more in one (or two or three) different directions.

Disclaimers aside, then, can we generalize about the legal academy’s relative valuation of teaching, scholarship and service?   One possible way of getting at this question is to ask what law schools teach the law teachers of the future.   Several law schools, such as NYU, to name one, offer a for-credit course that I call, “Who Wants to be a Law Professor?”   I myself took such a course way back in 1995 at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.   We read and discussed scholarly works with their  professor-authors.   The professor-authors  explained to our class of  12 or so  “professor-wannabes” how they had moved from an idea to a completed article, where they published and why, what they thought made scholarship “good” or “bad,” and how to break into law teaching.   Over and over, my classmates and I were told to write, write, write because  no law faculty would be impressed by a candidate who had “merely” worked in a prestigious law firm, obtained an important clerkship, or done great public-interest work.   One had to sacrifice personal and family time as necessary to make legal scholarship one’s main hobby outside of law practice, or else risk not getting  a law teaching job.  

Anecdotally, it seems to me that in recent years  fellowships and other “law-professor-to-be” programs are more common than the “Who Wants to be a Law Professor?” class.    (Paul Caron lists some of the fellowships and other programs here at the TaxProfBlog.)   Columbia’s Associates-in-Law program, to name one, regularly mints “market-ready” professors-to-be.   At their best, fellowship programs provide young lawyers with a supportive academic atmosphere for research, writing and possibly first forays into teaching, as well.   They are advised formally and informally on how to navigate the AALS Faculty Appointments Register, how to give a job talk, how to handle campus interviews and how to structure and produce a high-quality law review article.   I have met dozens of alumni of these programs.   They are polished; they can rattle off their “ideal course package;” they have written descriptions of their scholarly agenda; they tell us within the first one minute of their job talks that they will proceed in four parts and they do.  

I am  at the (relative) beginning of a  career aimed at  the trifecta:   strong scholar, strong teaching and a strong (read: service-oriented) membership in the legal profession.   Some of us are “better” at one or more of these, by personality, training or proclivity.   Some of us may arrive (or lose sight of the importance) of one sooner than the other.   I suggest, though, that whatever our school’s rank, we as law professors need to communicate to each other and to our future colleagues that  all three  – teaching, scholarship and service –  are important.   Let’s expand the syllabus for “Who Wants to be a Law Professor?”   Let’s  value excellence in all three areas.    

-Bridget Crawford

This entry was posted in Academia. Bookmark the permalink.

0 Responses to How Do Law Schools Teach Their Teachers?

  1. umlawgirl07 says:

    I really enjoyed this posting. I have always believed that I would make a good teacher. I, however, am not one who (probably for all three reasons: personality, training and proclivity) who is effective at scholarship and I’ve long believed it to be the predominant pathway to law professorship. Indeed, I have always bought into the stereotype you describe and believed that if I wanted to teach law, I’d have to seek out an unranked law school. Alternatively, I thought I could combine my business background and teach law at a business school. But, that’s not where my passion lies. So, I practice law. Thankfully, I’m doing something I really enjoy and I derive great satisfaction from helping the people who come to our firm. Still, your posting causes my mind to wander off, again, in the realm of what-if…

  2. brat says:

    While aspiring to be a balanced scholar in all areas, teaching, research, and service, if you are working at a research university, research trumps all when it comes to P&T. Be SURE you read the university regulations that involve P&T. At my institution the regs clearly state it is RESEARCH and a candidate’s competence therein which is the central criterion for P&T. Good teaching and service are the proverbial icing on the cake, but without outstanding research, you’ll be out the door.

    I’m in year 12 at my institution. As a baby prof, I was warned by senior scholars not to aspire to the outstanding teaching award…which was known as the “kiss of death at tenure” award (And I work in a college of education–which claims the area of pedagogy). Too many fine baby profs, who were winners, were later rejected by the university for tenure.

    So, my advice? Do a good job on teaching and service, but they cannot be what define you. The only thing that counts is research at research u’s.

  3. Ralph M. Stein says:

    While scholarship is and should be very important for tenure and professional achievement purposes, the simple reality is that it doesn’t meet the prime law school mission of educating students to practice law, not replace a current member of the Supreme Court.

    Collectively, fine scholarship raises a school’s position in the academic world which is of course desirable. But I have yet to overhear a graduating student thank a professor for the role his/her scholarship played in getting the degree. More to the point, too often the drive to publish supports the least involved practice of teaching, e.g., the straight Socratic method (real or claimed) followed by a “Final Examination” with no evaluative platforms preceding it.”

    I don’t pretend at this very late point in a beloved career to be heavily engaged in scholarship but I have been told frankly by a few colleagues that they could never write as they do if they undertook the multiple original litigation-based research and writing assignments that are the core of my large section courses and seminars. And which, by the way, have demonstrably influenced employment opportunities.

    This is not to say that the traditional teaching methodology employed by many of my colleagues isn’t carried out with elan and skill – they are all brilliant academics. But the methodology allows a very great amount of time to be directed to scholarship, not to training practitioners. It’s a fair question to ask to whose interests are many research-primary faculties geared.

  4. Pingback: Feminist Law Professors » Blog Archive » Is the Internet to Blame for Similar-Sounding Faculty Candidates?