At high holiday services in my conservative Jewish synagogue, I reflected on the omnipresence of narratives of decline in my professional and religious life. Apparently, the approved sermon topic at many conservative pulpits this year was how to rescue the shrinking conservative movement. The Pew Report’s stark figures on that decline, illustrated to the right, suggested the theme of the sermon (at least in my congregation): reaching out to new revenue sources applicants potential converts congregants. As the rabbi stated, unless we find more congregants (and soon!) by opening the doors & working to engage new audiences, we will wither on the vine.
This sermon was explicitly delivered as a recruiting pitch, and I found it familiar. Doesn’t the claim — “we’ve learned our lesson, we’re now going to innovate” — sound exactly like a thousand Law Dean speeches? Here’s a summary of one, by an especially skillful and media-savvy Dean:
“[UC Hastings Dean] Wu is the first to acknowledge that he cannot change the market. But with a little ingenuity, he can change the law school model, making it more interdisciplinary and more pragmatically job-oriented, even if that means slashing enrollment or acknowledging that some students might have to reinvent themselves as small-businesspeople. Lawyering might be an old, feudal business, but law schools won’t survive if they don’t adapt to the new economy, Wu says. That’s the only way to keep Hastings, or any of its peers, afloat.”
Change or die. A cliche difficult to gainsay, at least in the abstract. So law schools (and congregations) seek to evolve without losing some core component of their identity. For synagogues, the question boils down to how – and how much – to welcome non-jews to the pews. Law Schools, similarly, now ask “who do we want to teach.”
Some – like Penn State – increasingly make foreign LLMs a key constituency, rather than a tolerated budgetary crutch. Other schools compete in the increasing crowded online education/certification market for domestic lawyers, or paralegals. And all over the country, law professors teach increasing numbers of undergrads. I’m guessing here, but I’d bet that while 10 years ago, 95% of law professor instruction time was spent on JDs, it’s more like 75% today, and could be 50% in 10 years. You do have to wonder about the trend. Just as conservative synagogues built on the rejection of Reform Judaism’s open-door orientation may be unable to effectively recruit and service different members, it’s fair to ask if law schools are or could be generally good at teaching non-JD students.
And let’s say that law schools actually are good at teaching their new students — or at least better than the alternatives, which is highly probable. There’s still something faintly defensive and catastrophic about the enterprise. If law schools say: “we have to teach new skills to new people,” they in effect admit “the old skills are no longer particularly valuable.” But that position is profoundly stupid, not to mention self-defeating. It reinforces a prevailing narrative about law schools – they are broke, and need fixing. The reason that law schools are in trouble today is that...
Via Concurring Opinions