A Funny Thing Happened on the Way To My Law Office Management Class - It Was Cancelled!
Tonight, January 8, 2008, would have marked the beginning of my eighth year at Quinnipiac University School of Law teaching law students how to open their own law practice right out of law school. Yet, effective immediately my Law Office Management Class has been cancelled. But the reasons might surprise you.
First, the facts. My class has been wait-listed for years because it was very popular even though labor-intensive. The most I would accept was 30 students. It also included a guest panel of new solos up to three years out from Quinnipiac who would tell their stories and the students could ask any number of questions. Now 30 students out of under 400 total student population is a sizeable percentage of students opting to take this little 'ol adjunct's elective two credit course. A practical skills course. And therein lies the problem.
I was informed tenured professor's elective classes were being cancelled because they would get just 2 or 3 students signing up. Now they are TENURED professors which means they get paid no matter what. This unexpected shortfall of registrants in tenured professors' classes was due to 1) a deliberate reduction in the admitting class to up the LSAT scores of the entering class and 2) the decline in overall admissions making the class size even smaller than anticpated and 3) students opting to take my course instead of the courses they 'ought' to take. It's called 'credit envy.'
By eliminating my class 30 students are now forced to take classes they 'ought' to take instead of the classes they would like to take to meet their credit requirements. This way the approved 'ought to take' courses taught by tenured professors can be run and the course offering can remain in the school's catalogue and satisfy the ABA accreditation committee. See, once a class hasn't been offered for so many semesters it must be removed from the catalog. Not good.
So, even if Joe Student wants to take Susan Cartier Liebel's Law Office Management course which will teach him the business end of practicing law he will be forced to take tenured Professor X's arcane offering instead because it is taught by an academic who has been feeling threatened nobody wants to take her course. And these are the very people who run the committees who decide which courses should or should not be offered.
But to make 'credit envy' not look so obvious, after eight years they decided to tell me my class was not 'academic' enough....no case law, no socratic method. It doesn't matter the course I taught does not lend itself to case law analysis or this style of teaching. It's their right and privilege to offer the courses of their choosing.
If you think I am making this up, however, and there is another story I'm not telling, there is no 'spinning' going on here. It's the truth. It was told to me directly from the horse's mouth. But just in case you still question me, a generous and thoughtful reader forwarded the following article dated yesterday, January 7, 2008 from the Chronicle of Higher Education. highlighting this past week's Association of American Law Schools (AALS) annual meeting. I give you the horse's mouth:
While many people at the annual meeting spoke with excitement about the chance to "revolutionize" legal education, others questioned whether some of the proposed changes, particularly the emphasis on practical skills, were feasible, or even desirable.
How Adjuncts Could Help—or Hurt
Bringing in an adjunct to team-teach a course is a relatively affordable way that a law school could bring the real world into the classroom, participants suggested. Retired lawyers and practicing alumni would be likely candidates.
But even that idea drew skepticism.
"That strikes me as something that might be threatening to faculty members," said Brad Saxton, dean of Quinnipiac University School of Law.
The impression students might get, Mr. Saxton said, is "The dean here doesn't really know because he hasn't done it in a while, but here's how it plays out on the ground."
Martha L. Minow, a professor at Harvard Law School, said her institution had its share of skeptics when it overhauled its curriculum last year.
"There seems to be an amazing ability to cover the waterfront with two sentences," which also shoot down any possibility for change, she said. The first sentence, she said, is "We've tried that before." The second is "We've never tried that before."
The supremacy of faculty autonomy is another barrier. There's a feeling that "we are kings and queens of our classrooms, and we don't have to consult with anyone, thank you," Ms. Minow said.
Another challenge of more closely integrating theory and practice is getting beyond biases that faculty have about each other: that clinical faculty aren't as intellectually qualified and that theoretical faculty are out of touch with the real world. "As long as we're looking at each other with these biases it's hard to have respect for each other and work together," said Suellyn Scarnecchia, law dean at the University of New Mexico.
(I encourage you to read the entire article here. It really tells you why the law school's are incapable of any meaningful change in my lifetime. Personally, I suggest they get rid of tenure completely. Nobody should be that secure. It breeds complacency and arrogance and destructive self-interest.)
In all fairness to Brad, he is a good man, a good educator, a good dean and very forward thinking. His heart is really in the right place. But he does answer to many who are self-proclaimed "kings and queens" who definitely feel threatened by any change. A few years ago I was invited to participate on a committee looking to create a solo and small firm practice center starting with a concentration in the same. The Dean was very supportive of this idea. However, this is an example of a progressive idea that died in committee destroyed by internal fighting and egos and blatant self-preservation by the royalty.
There are numerous faculty members I deeply admire for their dedication and committment to the students and the law who recognize and actively promote and fight for progress. But the needs of a narrow and small-minded few seem to overpower the majority and eventually spirits and passions die.
I was given an offer, however, to teach my course non-credit to new graduates during the time period after they take the bar exam and before they learn whether or not they've passed. I will decline this offer.
In case you are wondering, I don't regret writing this post or publishing it on the internet. I'm also not even remotely upset. Teaching at Quinnipiac offered me many opportunities to advance to my current position and for that I'm grateful. But my run there has ended and it was a good run. I will continue to educate law students and lawyers alike from a different, more exciting platform, not one confined to a classroom or even one law school. This truly energizes me with the possibilities. As a matter of fact, I've been working with someone for a while now to make 'Solo Practice University' a reality, bigger and more expansive than Solo Practice University E-zine.
This year promises to be very exciting!