Category: Law School

1

Warren Buffett’s Institutional Imperative and Law Schools

Warren Buffett minted a concept he calls the institutional imperative to describe a nettlesome phenomenon in business organizations that can introduce costly and enduring mistakes. The concept may explain something about how law schools got themselves into the difficulties they are in today, and why it may be so hard to escape them.

Buffett’s concept is encapsulated in the following series of attributes, adapted suitably for law schools. Their cumulative effect is to cause rationality to wilt in institutional decision making:

(1) as if governed by Newton’s First Law of Motion, an institution will resist any change in its current direction.

(2) just as work expands to fill available time, academic projects or appointments will materialize to soak up all available resources.

(3) academic cravings of the Dean, however foolish, will often be quickly supported by committees charged with bold tasks reflected in names such as Strategic Planning and Self Study and platoons of Associate Deans and Program Directors eager to produce glossy brochures boasting of the latest academic achievement.

(4) the behavior of peer schools, whether in changing the first year curriculum, adding clinical programs or other experiential learning, renovating the third year, adding new specialty journals, making splashy lateral appointments, reducing course loads, paying summer research grants or whatever, will be mindlessly imitated.

Institutional dynamics, not venality or stupidity, set schools on these courses, which are often misguided. Deans today and faculty seeking to hire new deans would do well to think hard about Buffett’s institutional imperative and organize and manage their schools in ways that minimize its influence.

* See The Essays of Warren Buffett (ch. II.F: Cigar Butts and the Institutional Imperative).

 

1

What is the Point of Symposia?

Over at the Faculty Lounge, the estimable Michelle Meyer argues that it’s possibly inconsistent to take account of race, gender, and sexual orientation in symposia invitations but not to do so when selecting articles in law reviews.  Her post is thoughtful and well-written, though I believe it rests on a false premise.  Go over there and read it and then come back to find out which one.

Read More

2

The Blue Book and its Times

Yale Robinson, a student in my Corporations class, today told me about his law review note topic, which happened to be in the same field as my Note, published back in 1987. After class, Yale went and found my Note and emailed me a report about it.  In the email, Yale added:

As an aside, it is amusing to see that the Table of Contents in the Cardozo Law Review of that time does not list the author of a Note, only the title, and the first page of the Note also does not give the author’s name. You have to go to the last page to see the author’s name. I don’t know why this was done, but it appears that this omission was rectified beginning with the April 1991 issue.

I replied as follows:

The curious style you mention was the standard practice at all law reviews at all schools for [decades, since 1926,] up through 1991 when the Blue Book announced the change. Before 1991, notes were “unsigned” and citation was merely to Note, . . .  rather than Cunningham, Note . . . .

Another practice changed around the same time: in the old days, only an author’s last name was used (Cunningham or Robinson etc); thereafter the first name and initial are included.

I think these changes reflect things about the times, such as elitism that wore away in the case of naming Note authors and a sense of full identity . . . in the case of the full name.

The keepers of the Blue Book keep citation practice up with the times.  Looking back at the styles of earlier eras can be amusing.  I wonder what other amusing anachronisms are to be found in the old style books.

 


You can see the covers of a dozen different editions of the Blue Book, from which the two in this post are taken, here 

 

 

 

4

Masters Degrees at Law Schools

One trend that will probably become pronounced in legal education over the next five years is the development of masters degrees in law.  These would be geared towards folks who want some legal training for one year but are not interested in becoming attorneys.  Some schools already have specialized versions of this (say, for journalists), but one can imagine interest in these degrees from scientists, doctors, corporate human resource departments, or folks in business.  This type of program is attractive from the law schools’ perspective because it (1) would generate revenue; (2) would lead to a more diverse student body; and (3) is  unregulated by the ABA.

The question that these programs raise, though, is whether they would undercut the JD degree or a JD education.  In other words, would some people inclined to get a JD substitute to the masters if they could?  Will JD students be upset at the prospect that some jobs could be taken from them by masters graduates?  And how about alumni–would they feel like their degrees would be diluted if their school offers a masters?  Thoughts are welcome.

10

Zombie Law Schools

I thought I’d try my hand at some posts on the state of legal education.  I’m not sure that I have anything original to say, but maybe I’m wrong.

Here is the first observation that I want to make.  Everybody knows that law school applications are way down.  You would think that this would lead to a contraction in law schools.  But that has not happened.  Instead, MORE law schools are opening.  How can this be?

The answer is that law schools are profit centers for universities, and therefore there is a powerful interest in creating them or keeping them going.  Most university departments lose money.  Revenues are concentrated in professional schools or a handful of departments that generate grants–sciences and engineering. Moreover, many universities want a law school because, as one administrator told me, it makes the campus “look better” for undergraduate and graduate applicants.

What this means is that any law school that is connected to a university will not be allowed to fail, even if the same school standing alone would.  These zombie law schools are going to prevent the market from clearing, with adverse consequences for faculty and students.  More on that later.

2

Recalling Cardozo Law Review’s “Bork Book”

I never knew Robert H. Bork (1927-2012) but as a rising 3L and law review editor at Cardozo in the summer of 1987, my classmates and I met his intellectual heft and political salience. Just after President Ronald Reagan announced his nomination of Bork to be Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in late July, it was obvious that the country was headed for a passionate debate on justice writ large (e.g., abortion, antitrust, civil rights, free speech, you name it).

Sensing an opportunity to discipline the discourse, we decided to collect and publish a dozen essays and four reports assessing Judge Bork’s jurisprudence from every angle. Well-advised throughout by our professors, David Rudenstine and Monroe Price, we solicited extant or original pieces by such luminaries as Ronald Dworkin, Steve Gillers, Mary Ann Glendon and Michael McConnell, as well as reports of the White House, Public Citizen, a research group commissioned by the Senate Judiciary Committee (led by Christopher Schroeder and approved by Floyd Abrams, Clark Clifford, Walter Dellinger and Laurence Tribe) and a DOJ response thereto.

Fifty of us, new 2L staff and 3L editors, spent an intense two weeks collating and editing the contributions. Then four of us (Jim Nobile, Allen Applbaum, Jeff Stamler and me) flew to Lincoln, Nebraska, site of the leading printer of law reviews, Joe Christensen Inc.  We spent several more days and sleepless nights scrutinizing the page proofs before giving the print order. After 10,000 copies were printed, Jeff and I flew back to New York while Jim and Allen drove a rented U-Haul to Washington D.C. where the town was abuzz with debate and Senate hearings would shortly begin.

Meanwhile, back in the nation’s capital, another classmate, Barbara Braucher (who later married U.S. Attorney General Ted Olson and still later perished aboard one of the hijacked airplanes on 9/11) had been making her rounds in the Senate, where Barbara had many connections. She alerted members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, including its chairman Joe Biden, that our law review issue, addressing every important topic and viewpoint in a compact 530 pages under a single two-inch spine, was on its way.

Upon their arrival in Washington, Jim and Allen toted several boxes directly to the awaiting Senators. Standing on the steps of the Capitol when delivering the books, the New York Times interviewed our classmates about this effort.  The story (here) ran the next day, along with a cute quote from Allen and a photo of the group.

The special issue, released in early October ahead of the hearings, sold briskly at many book shops around Washington and New York that fall.  It was clear during the hearings that many Senators had read our product.  In the years after, it was even clearer that Judge Bork had, as he cited to our “Bork book” often.  The issue was volume 9, no. 1 and was a great start to our third year of law school and one of many innovative academic undertakings for which the Cardozo Law Review became known over ensuing decades.

3

Dave Brubeck – A great has died

Dave Brubeck has died at age 91. I grew up on jazz from Miles Davis to John Coltrane to the Marsalis family and more. I was fortunate to have seen Brubeck in concert. In the odd coincidence world, yesterday I was listening to one of my favorite albums, We’re All Together Again for the First Time, as I got into a groove for an article I am writing. I thought I should post one the great tracks to encourage students and professors to dive into the song and their work. Perhaps I felt a tremor in the force. Anyway enjoy.

5

Incorrect Citations

Wonderful as it is to be cited, being cited incorrectly poses a dilemma.  If your article is referenced for a proposition it does not support, what should you do?  Should you alert the author of the piece or the editor of the journal?   Should you ignore it?  Should you correct the reference the next time you publish on the topic?

Perhaps the ideal response varies with the degree of error.   Scholars delight to participate in the discourse, after all, and sometimes a citation that seems incorrect to an author is really  a way to advance the conversation.  A reference in ensuing scholarship explaining that contribution would be apt.   Sometimes a piece is cited for a general point that an author rather than a reader would recognize as a bit afield. No response at all is okay.

But what about a statement that is clearly wrong? Suppose someone makes an assertion that European accounting law is principles based and cites my Vanderbilt Law Review article challenging the whole notion of principles based accounting.   It infuriates me.  I want to write to the author and editor to object.  But should I? Should  I care?

The problem is even worse than appears, because while I am particularly sensitive to incorrect citations to my own work, I also see incorrect citations to the work of others with which I’m familiar.  It appears that many writers and editors today cite things without really reading them.  It seems as though someone should say something.  But who?  And to whom?

2

Classroom Minutes and Syllabus Design

I am dividing my Corporations casebook to fit the fourth different classroom schedule I’ve had this decade.  It is a taxing but valuable exercise, from a pedagogical standpoint.

At Boston College from 2002 to 2005, my 3-credit class met twice weekly for 90 minutes and I tailored my syllabus accordingly.  From 2007 to 2010, at George Washington, my 4-credit class met thrice weekly for 75 minutes, and I re-sliced, and slightly expanded, my course.

Visiting at Fordham this term, my 4-credit class is meeting twice weekly for 100 minutes; the syllabus I’m designing this week is for my visit at Cardozo in the Spring, where my 4-credit class will meet once per week for 110 minutes and twice per week for 50 minutes.  And at Cardozo, the Corporations course includes a mandatory separate sequence on Accounting, so the syllabus design is a bit more complex yet, as I incorporate material from another book.

In each exercise, the task entails assigning a set of materials, each defined as a teaching unit.  The pros and cons of the various combinations emerge, revealing how a given topic can be either expanded or contracted or linked in new ways with other units.   The exercise adds perspective on the materials for the teacher which should enrich the student experience.

Particularly interesting is how, at least as the book is designed, some topics are best suited for 50 or 75 minute units while others are better suited for the longer 90 to 110 minute slots.  That  knowledge will help me as I revise the book for its 8th edition next summer, trying to provide materials that can be readily sliced into separate series of 50 versus 75 versus 100 minute blocks.

As you can guess from the fact that I just diverted 20 minutes to writing this post, syllabus redesign to accommodate teaching minutes is not the most stimulating of activities. It is less interesting and less valuable than switching books, and is hardly as taxing.  Still, the exercise shows the value of variety.  Time to get back to it.