Category Archives: Law School

Teaching Plans (Herein of Jurisprudence)

Ignoto, c.d. solone, replica del 90 dc ca da orig. greco del 110 ac. ca, 6143.JPG

Bust of Solon, via WikiCommons. Photo subject to Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

It seems to have been almost two weeks since I last posted something here. That is largely a function of bearing down on work, and on other urgencies. Plus I’ve had multiple interesting often all-day online conferences to go to, some including Saturday sessions; next Friday there are two I’d like to go to that almost completely overlap. And, not least, the psychological effect of war in Europe: the not-utterly-theoretical chance of a third World War, or worse a nuclear exchange, cannot be discounted. It’s an attention-grabber and a source of anxiety.

Work itself has certainly been copious. I had a bunch of mid-term papers to grade. Creating the final tranches of the syllabi and notes and questions for my two classes this semester, Information Privacy Law and Robots & AI Law, is also eating me alive. These are areas where there is such a great wealth of material that trying to boil it down to readable class-size chunks is just very hard. It’s the first time in many years that I’ve had to do this for two classes at once–usually I’m smart enough to rely on a casebook for at least one class if I’m teaching two. And usually I’m smart enough to do more of the detailed preparation  over the summer or the Xmas break; again, circumstances intervened.

Speaking of teaching, my schedule for next year will be different. Next year I’ll teach Robots & AI in Fall, and then have a tough Spring with Administrative Law and Jurisprudence (a first-year elective, with a parallel section for 2Ls & 3Ls). Administrative Law has a book, but the Supreme Court’s activism in this area rapidly outstrips any casebook’s supplement. Keeping up is a chore, albeit one I find satisfying if not exactly enjoyable as I tend to disagree with the new rulings. And the eight-hour take-home exams take quite a bit of time to grade.

I have not taught Jurisprudence in many years, but the person who took over the course from me retired a few years ago, and it threatened to fall out of the curriculum. I think any law school with intellectual pretensions should offer it, and I look forward to taking it up again.

I tend towards the Analytic Jurisprudence school over the, I think, more popular ‘history of legal philosophy’ model. You can tell if it’s a History of Legal Philosophy course if it starts with Hammurabi; I start with the Lon Fuller’s classic The Case of the Speluncean Explorers. The course’s theme, as is common in the Analytic Jurisprudence model of intro courses, is how do we identify what the law is, and secondarily (somewhat Fullerishly) why do we owe this law fidelity or obedience, and (only) thirdly normative questions of what the law should be–although that is inevitably commingled with obedience/fidelity issue. I tend towards trouble cases which I hope give students interesting things to chew on. And I do try to give readings reflecting the Positivists (especially Hart), the Realists (the classics and them sometimes a little from the New Haven School of international law), the Sociological school, and even the Natural Law school–although for me the only way to get there would be sociological or anthropological, which no doubt betrays my Analytic bias.

I have my own materials from when I last taught it, which on the whole do most of what I want, but they do have some soft spots. For one thing, I’ve never figured out how to teach Dworkin right: his thought seems such a moving target, and the best works are long. I have tended to use secondary sources but never found one that does the job in an acceptable page count. In my perfect course I would end up considering the ways in which International Law is “law” or a “legal system” in a meaningful way. My view, increasingly ratified by history, is that international law is indeed as much a form of a law as is US domestic law, so the differences are more of degree than kind–I am not a positivist!– but that is a big topic and including it means leaving out something else. To those who say Putin proves international law is not law, I would counter both with the very strong trans-national response, and the observation that there are some pretty big domestic law-breakers too, but (other than in CLS) we rarely say this proves that what we teach is pure mystification. Hmm. Maybe I should assign Duncan Kennedy’s ‘little red book’?

There is also a substantial number of quality jurisprudence books written in the last decade, of which I could conceivably assign perhaps one or part of one; I’ve read fewer of them than I like to admit, and even fewer with care, so catching up is going to be a summer project, one I look forward to.

The medium-term plan is to teach Jurisprudence and Privacy in alternate years, given that neither grabs enormous enrollments. We’ll see how that works out.

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Research Assistant Wanted

Copright 'brizzle born and bred' Some rights reserved, would like to hire a UM 1L or 2L to be my research assistant for 10-15 hours/week during the coming semester. If things work out we might continue into the summer, and/or next year.

The work primarily involves assisting me with legal research relating to papers I am writing on artificial intelligence, privacy, and on Internet regulation but also helping out on other random things.

I need someone who can write clearly and is well-organized.

The pay of $13 / hr is set by the university, and is not as high as you deserve, but the work is sometimes interesting.

If this sounds attractive, please e-mail me the following with the subject line RESEARCH ASSISTANT 2022 (in all caps), followed by your name:

  1. A note telling me

* Where you saw this announcement
* How many hours you would ideally like to work per week (10-12 is quite normal)
* When you are free to start.
* Your phone number and email address.
* Several times you would be free to meet for an interview in the next week or so.

  1. A copy of your resume (c.v.).

  2. A transcript of your grades (need not be an official copy).

  3. If you have one handy, also attach a short NON-legal writing sample. If you have none, I’ll accept a legal writing sample (whatever you do, though, please don’t send your L-Comm memo as it’s too hard to tell how much they’ve been edited by your instructor).

  4. If you happen to have any experience with WordPress site design, or with Unix, or system administration, please mention that, as I may have a second job available for someone with some of these skills.

I look forward to speaking with you.

Posted in Law School, U.Miami | Comments Off on Research Assistant Wanted

Wouldn’t Work on Law Students

Do you know the difference between education and experience? Education is when you read the fine print; experience is what you get when you don't. - Pete SeegerMaybe I’m an optimist, but I think this trick that a music prof a the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga tried on his students would not work on law students:

on the second page of the three-page syllabus he included the location and combination to a locker, inside of which was a $50 cash prize.

“Free to the first who claims; locker one hundred forty-seven; combination fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five,” read the passage in the syllabus. But when the semester ended on Dec. 8, students went home and the cash was unclaimed.

I think law students are socialized to read the fine print. On the other hand, I also think this can wear off. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that a significant fraction of law professors might not read all the details, if only because we know that fine print often isn’t binding.

Posted in Law School | 1 Comment

The First Thing We Do is Praise (Certain) Lawyers

Dick the Butcher in Henry VI, part II, act IV, Scene II, Line 73 explains the necessary first step to seizing power illegally.

Trump really did attempt a coup.

Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Pak — all Republicans — testified that Mr. Trump was not seeking their legal advice, but strong-arming them to violate their oaths of office, undermine the results of the election and subvert the Constitution.

What stopped him?  Two things: 1) Lawyers with a basic core of ethics that required fidelity to bedrock democratic values;  and 2) the general incompetence of the plotters (cf. events of Jan 6, 2020).

I believe this has important implications for how we teach law students.  More discussion of (or paeans to?) the values of the rule of law in a democratic society may be in order.  At least until the Supreme Court makes ashes of it in our mouths, at which point…what?…Edward Luttwak?

Continue reading

Posted in Law School, The Scandals | 1 Comment

College Tuition Hits a Ceiling?

Colleges and Universities (I would imagine, although that’s not what’s measured in the graph below) have basically stopped raising tuition.

The 0.2% increase is the lowest in 40 years, and below the rate of overall inflation, making it a price decrease in real terms.

Whether this is due to COVID reducing demand, or a realization that they’ve reached a price ceiling I have no idea, but it’s a big and welcome change.

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Intellectual Cicada? Or, the WSJ Returns to the Theme that Law School Tuition is Too Damn High

I don’t know if this is an eight-year thing, like some sort of intellectual cicada, but we’ve been here before. Back in 2013, major newspapers published a bunch of articles purporting to show that a J.D. was a bad investment financially. This led to a purported (and in my view slightly over-done) rebuttal, The Economic Value of a Law Degree, by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre; Simkovic in particular then took to the blogs to defend his corner.

Now, we’re back to it again: today the Wall Street Journal published Law School Loses Luster as Debts Mount and Salaries Stagnate, which generalizes from undoubtedley true tales of people who borrowed too much ($300,000 in some cases, a chunk being undergraduate debt), and were not able to find jobs after law school that allowed them to pay it back in a reasonable time, or at all.

And, like clockwork, here’s Michael Simkovic with a reply, Wall Street Journal blames law schools for COVID economy (Michael Simkovic), the core of which is the economist’s perennial question: compared to what? Simkovic basically argues that, yes, more recent law school grads have had it tough, but less tough than people who didn’t get law degrees.

In fact, the story last time was more complicated than it appeared from the newspapers. And yes, law school tuition is too damn high, but that’s the rack rate and law schools discounted a lot back then and do even more of it now. More generally, at least eight years ago, whether a J.D. was worth it turned out to be much more complex issue than journalists seem to be willing to accept.

I wrote a bunch of blog posts trying to sort through the mess then, and I think they’re still relevant now. A key conclusion was that for law graduates who paid full freight and ended up in the bottom quartile of the law-graduate income distribution [NB: that is not the same as being in the bottom quarter of the class in a given school–this is a national earnings number, and one I suspect skews hard towards grads from bottom-feeding law schools] law school might be a bad financial investment. Another point was the obvious one, that when you start law school it’s pretty hard to know if you will be one of those people, and some of the folks who borrow a ton might be the very people with an inflated estimate of their prospects and abilities.

Here are some links to my posts in the first round:

In his latest, Simkovic notes two key facts that he says undermine the WSJ article’s analysis. First, during the COVID recession, there has been a program of national forbearance on loan repayment. Second,

During this period, law graduates and other highly educated workers have faired relatively well, at least judging from the imperfect data that is currently available (see also here and here). Lawyers continue to earn high salaries, their employment numbers have not appreciably declined, and unemployment rates in legal occupations, at 3 percent, are lower than in most fields.

At first glance, this seems plausible. But it does not change three facts. First, there were and are a group of people who borrow a lot, especially those with substantial debt from college. A subset of that group do not get the high-paying jobs they were counting on after law school (and an even smaller subset can’t find legal work at all) and find themselves in various forms of financial difficulties ranging from not making payments to a long-term debt overhang that limits future choices in life. Second, these sub-groups are a small minority of law graduates, although the number for whom a J.D. does not turn out to be profitable could be up to a quarter of all graduates, depending on various assumptions. Third, current law school practices do not protect this group from what you might call the risk of buyer’s remorse–of course, that sort of protection against one’s own life choices is generally rare.

It’s possible to imagine some partial solutions. For example, I’d like to see educational debt more easily discharged in bankruptcy; right now discharge is much too hard.

And, there might be things law schools could do on their own too, but they are not cheap. For example, wouldn’t it be cool if some law school offered students the option of a substantial refund–say 50%?–to students who (1) had a high debt load and (2) did very poorly in their first semester or maybe their first year and (3) decided to drop out after they got their grades. It’s true that we don’t know that low grades mean low salaries–indeed there are many anecdotes of people doing badly in law school and then making a mint as a trial lawyer or an entrepreneur–but that has to be a higher-risk strategy for a student. Who knows, maybe the law school could ask for a small surcharge in exchange for this form of insurance. But I dream.

Posted in Law School | 18 Comments