Monday, July 2, 2012

Thoughts on law school reform and the tension between specialization and elitism

Here are two long and interesting posts on law school reform. Some quick thoughts:

1. I may be repeating things that I have already said buried deep in the archives, but in the unlikely event that I have picked up readers in the last couple of years: the law school reform movement has two goals that are in direct tension with one another. One, the reformers usually seem to want a legal profession that cares less about academic pedigree and hierarchy (see the first of my two links.) Two, they seem to want curricular reform that will lead to de-emphasis on legal theory and policy and that will give students more practical skills that they can use shortly after graduation. Not enough seems to have been written on how these goals are in almost direct tension with each other.

That is, my law school (historically ranked around #25 in U.S. News) used to send most of the quarter/one-third or so of the class with the best grades to Biglaw, while everyone else scattered among jobs in prosecution, indigent defense, and smaller firms in private practice. I suspect it would be very difficult and expensive for it to re-fashion its curriculum so as to offer a multiplicity of vocational "tracks" to students based on first-year grades. Instead, I imagine a more efficient system emerging in which some schools specialized in preparing Biglaw associates, and others specialized in preparing students for less traditionally elite forms of practice. I see nothing intrinsically wrong with that. Indeed, while this is only anecdata, the non-lawyer members of my family, dental hygienists, etc. with whom I had to make small talk as a 1L all seemed surprised that I wasn't taking a specialized curriculum (or, as it was sometimes put, a "major") in a particular field of law. But such a system would inevitably involve sorting aspiring lawyers into the more and less elite segments of the profession much earlier than occurs now. LSATs and undergrad grades would seal one's professional fate much more so than occurs now. I'm not convinced that that's terrible; the current system actually seems to slightly undervalue low grades at competitive undergrads relative to high grades from less well-known ones, which actually might tend to penalize applicants from high SES backgrounds. But for those who care about elitism, pedigree, and hierarchy, this issue is perhaps grappling with more than it has been.

I am also intrigued by the discussion about greater local specialization. It is probably worthwhile, and I think law schools already do this to some extent (I have been occasionally puzzled when friends at Western law schools told me that they took courses in water law, and ditto when the Texans remember having taken classes in Oil & Gas.) That said, I am not sure how much variation there is across the country. Aren't small firms' needs pretty similar across the country, subject perhaps to a couple variations like the following?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Power of the powerless

We've had no power for the last not quite 24 hours. Fortunately, all of us are fine. I wasn't expecting the storm and was sufficiently foolish as to have an almond zucchini cake in the oven when the lights went out. The heat is rough on poor Willow. She's gone up to Pennsylvania to visit her grand-humans a day early; she would be leaving there tomorrow once her other humans leave for Russia anyway. Now, I am enjoying the functional air conditioning in Pnin's office while he does some work.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Some reading on the PPACA decision

I've been struggling to get through some, uh, other writing and thus haven't had much time to come up with original analysis regarding the individual mandate decision. But as I'm formulating my thoughts, let me recommend Ross Douthat's "John Roberts's Political Decision." I disagree with Douthat's bottom line that Roberts's decision was "defensible," but I do wholeheartedly concur with his conclusion: "Nonetheless, liberals who waxed hysterical about a politicized court need to reckon with the fact that the most “political” of all the opinions on the health care law was the one that ultimately upheld it."

Also, let me just say it for the 2, 547th time, Richard Epstein is right.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


1. Although I've been an atheist since I was about thirteen, the instinct that makes me want to cut deals with God is still alive and well. (Okay, fine, so You don't have to make sure that I get an A on the math test! Just make sure that my grandfather is okay.) Golden retriever Willow didn't pass on her first attempt at the Canine Good Citizen test. Unfortunately, she jumped on the evaluator when she was supposed to be sitting politely for petting, and she also ran over to greet another dog during Exercise Number 6. She did all of the other exercises nicely. The evaluator even said that she was one of the best dogs of the night on CGC #9, the enforced separation, which means that...her great academic strength in life is that she doesn't like me.* We can always give the test a try again, although it's not as though passing it really gives us anything practical except bragging rights. She certainly did get a lot of good reinforcement on her obedience skills from taking the prep class. We'll probably keep going with her private trainer throughout August and maybe sign her up for Intermediate Obedience with Rally in September, when a class starts at the same facility.

But, given my utterly absurd history of deity bargaining, there's part of me that wants to trade Willow's misfortune for a favorable outcome in the PPACA litigation tomorrow. Which is ridiculous, but still...

2. In the course of working on an article about hate crimes, I've noticed that white supremacist sites often come up freakishly high on Google when I'm looking up details about specific incidents. And once one wanders on by accident, there's the odd rubbernecking instinct to look deeper into the lunacy. Like, what kind of race traitor am I? White supremacists are apparently fond of pseudo-erudite Latin names, so the question arises of whether I am a Gracchite (an aloof aristocrat who is merely indifferent to the plight of my race) or a proditor (someone who more actively agitates for race suicide) One wonders if there could be a Cosmo quiz for this: if your favorite cocktail is a gin and tonic and your favorite shoes are snakeskin pumps, then you might be a Gracchite, and your future husband is a preppy lawyer who likes tennis. Conversely, if your ideal pet is a golden retriever and your favorite thing to do at the gym is yoga, you might be a proditor, and your perfect guy is a pro-open-borders libertarian economist who likes ethnic restaurants.

*I'm joking. She's just a happy friendly dog who loves EVERYBODY and who wants EVERYONE to be her NEW BEST FRIEND OH PLEASE PLEASE BE MY FRIEND (tail wag.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Things I like (yes, this happens)

1. In the course of not writing an article, I am suddenly beset my fantasies of getting a male golden retriever whose call name would be Arrow and who would be registered with the AKC as "(Kennel's Name) Impawsibility Theorem." This would clearly be the most awesome name ever.

2. Pnin and I are going to Russia in a week, and I have had to get various booster shots. In the interest of not having to explain all the bandages on my triceps to well-meaning colleagues, I apparently must wear shirts with sleeves for the next couple of days. Good thing that the temperature is low, at least! I have discovered approximately the most wonderful white three-quarter sleeve shirt ever (yes, I know that the sleeves look longer on me on me than on the model.) It is actually non-floppy in the shoulders without being too tight across the chest. I feel especially French when wearing it with red pants (no, don't ask.) I now want to buy approximately eleven of them while they are still in stores, but I know that that would be silly.

3. It is a well-known fact of life that I must needs always have interesting lunch plans whenever Gilt has one of their good sales. Today was a happy exception. Although that does lead to the temptation to spend money....

4. To end on a somewhat more serious and less frivolous note, Matt Yglesias has a great column up in Slate today making the case for low-skilled immigration.  I can't see much to comment on, so let me just say, "Well done."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Annoying minor problems

Because I have read the Arizona opinion several times and can't figure out what I think of pre-emption doctrine, below will follow a discussion of not very important problems that I face in life.  One, yes, I am totally one of those people who is bitten more by mosquitoes than others. Read: during a highly unpleasant summer camp experience in sixth grade, I was somehow in the "good" tent and still managed to get more than 50 different bites. That my bunkmates were annoyingly anti-intellectual who refused to leave me alone to write did not help matters, but that tale is probably best not told here.  Anyhow, I was certainly not drinking beer then or at other points during my childhood when I drew a dispropotionate share of mosquitoes. Even now, I will occasionally, but generally much prefer wine or interesting cocktails when either is a reasonable alternative. So I doubt that's it. That I am a heavy breather or hot-blooded seems more plausible, although the latter would seem at odds with accounts that I am actually part Vulcan.

Also, yes, this.  I have now on occasion started to fudge actually remembering people, even when I'm confident of where and how I know them. This is in part a conscious effort to prevent some semblance of status.