Valuing Theorists, Valuing Practitioners in the Legal Academy

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Over at Best Practices in Legal Education, Mary Lynch (Albany) ruminates on faculty hiring:

I am not of the opinion that only expert practitioners can teach in accordance with Best Practices and Carnegie.     Just as the young faculty member who was hired to fill the”Property”slot may eventually become the Administrative Law expert, so too the”faculty member theorist”with no practice experience can  become an ally of Best Practices.    Faculty members who care about their students and what goes on in their classroom are always learning  new ways to equip themselves for  better teaching.   Theorists can interact with the practice world, co-teach with a practioner or clinician,   bring expert practioners into the classroom and/or consult with practitioners.

Professor Lynch’s full post is  here.

I have faculty colleagues who insist that law schools should hire only those who have “substantial” practice experience.  Apart from the obvious question of what constitutes “substantial” practice experience, I observe the steadfastness with which these particular colleagues make their claim.  Part of their tenacity seems to arise out of self-interest.  (Ever heard a newly-minted Supreme Court clerk on the job market extol the virtues of law practice?  Neither have I.)  But part of my colleagues’ tenacity appears to be a legitimate objection to the “Yale-ification” of legal education in the last 25(+) years.  Even law schools whose graduates are almost entirely destined for law practice have begun to hire (more) like schools further up in the “pecking order.”   Clerkships and prior publications have cache in the job market that practice experience does not.

I have practice experience (but maybe not “significant” experience — it was only 6.5 years in a big firm).  I also have a penchant for legal theory.  I find myself agnostic on the importance of practice experience for someone who is going to teach and train future lawyers.  Professor Lynch’s post suggests that my agnosticism may be appropriate, insofar as learning from lawyers and learning with lawyers can and should be undertakings for all law school faculty members.  Whether a particular candidate has a legal practice experience does not necessarily indicate whether she values what lawyers do (let alone be skilled at teaching others).  We all know plenty of lawyers with lots of practice experience but no love or respect for the practice of law.

-Bridget Crawford

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