Frank Wu was recently deemed by his peers to be the most influential person in legal academia. Too bad when it comes to improving legal academia he's got his head up his ass. Here he is writing at the Huffington Post about the tension between transparency reform and cost reform:
Everyone wants us to be transparent, while lowering our costs. Those goals, as is true of many human desires we feel simultaneously, are not highly compatible. Like elegant product design, transparency turns out to be pricey. Specifically it requires that we build an apparatus to find the information, organize it, verify it, submit it, and then track the trends that are revealed.
The other day, I spent the lunch hour in our cafe to chat with students. A nice fellow, a first-year student, came by to meet me. The only subject he wished to bring up was ice cream. He wanted to know if the cafe could install a machine as he recalled from his undergraduate days elsewhere, so he could enjoy soft-serve ice cream.
As I explained to him, I have nothing against ice cream. If we can make a profit as the vendor, then we would be delighted to offer ice cream. But if we cannot do so, then our strategic plan does not call for ice cream.
First, your attitude of "we'll be transparent if it turns a profit" is ridiculous. Transparency is an ethical obligation (and increasingly a regulatory requirement), and deserves more than a simple cost/benefit analysis.
Second, your school already has a NALP report. It's in your possession right now. You can publish it on your website FOR FREE. YOU CAN PUBLISH YOUR NALP REPORT FOR FREE. YOU CAN PUBLISH YOUR NALP REPORT FOR FREE RIGHT THIS VERY FREAKING MINUTE YOU INSINCERE ASSHAT.
Now that we know Wu's head is so far up his ass that the lump in his throat is his nose, let's look at Wu's explanation for why law school is so damned expensive these days:
The greatest change has been the embrace of clinical legal education. By "greatest," I mean the most sizable and the most worthwhile. Similar to the model of clinical medical education, clinical legal education is the best means by which we prepare students for practice. It has been so successful we as a profession might well be on the cusp of requiring it for every graduate. No med student graduates without examining a few actual patients.
The expense of clinical legal education can be calculated in straightforward terms. A professor in a doctrinal class, such as the first-year required curriculum of civil procedure, criminal law, property, contracts, and torts, can lecture to a hundred students at once. That is not ideal, but it is not uncommon. A professor in a clinical class, supervising student attorneys who are representing real people in real cases, cannot train more than ten students at once. That's if she cares about her responsibilities both as a teacher and a lawyer.
It happens that the "podium" professor as they are called likely makes more money than her clinical counterpart, though not by much. Thus the difference is more than an order of magnitude. Once you count the overhead required for an actual legal office, the clinical course requires ten times as much money. There are new technological advances that will alleviate some of that.
Pause for a moment on this math. If we want clinical legal education, we will need to spend much more to provide it. As curmudgeons tell the young, this is called a choice.
If only law schools were actually making a choice. They're not. When law schools expand their course offerings, well, that's just it. They expand course offerings. They never engage in choice. They don't say "X course would be great, in fact, better than Y, which is virtually useless, so let's replace Y with X." No, they say "X would be great, let's add that, and replace $$ with $$$."
Yes, clinical education is expensive. A whole lot more expensive than externships, but let's put that issue off for another time. A class with 10 students is more expensive than a class with 100. No debate there. And reformers do often ask for more of those 10 person classes. So let's look at what other expensive seminar courses UC Hastings is offering:
Accountability in International Human Rights Law - It's often joked that the bulk of law students enroll hoping to practice international human rights law, but that this of course is a practice area which is virtually non-existent. Apparently Hastings didn't get the joke.
Asian Pacific Americans and the Law - Truth is America doesn't have a great track record with Asian immigrants, what with the railroads and internment camps and all that. But, these aren't really contemporary legal issues, and the class would be better placed in a history department. There are immigration issues for Asian Americans, but that topic isn't in the course description.
China and the International Legal Order - This is a class that discusses China's role in the UN, WTO, and how it views trade and sovereignty issues. Perfect for the exactly 0 students who go on to become ambassador to China. Useless for the rest.
Critical Race Theory - Almost every school offers some version of this. And they pay a very expensive law professor for it instead of a much cheaper French postmodern literary theorist, and if at any point you discuss Foucault, Derrida, Lacan, or Baudrillard, that's really who should be teaching this class because you're using "critical" to mean "obfuscated beyond comprehension" and "theory" to mean "fashionable nonsense."
Film and the Law - It's not a class on the publication of private facts in documentaries. It's exactly what you think it is.
Law of the Human Body - Whether we should be allowed to enter into a kidney exchange is a really interesting issue. You can cancel the class and buy everyone interested in it a copy of Leo Katz's Why the Law is So Perverse instead.
UC Hastings does offer a number of practice-oriented seminars and simulation courses. And that's great. But remember, the operative word here was choice. Hastings isn't making a choice, it's just piling on every class a professor has an interest in and passing the increased costs along to the students. And that's basically the attitude every other school takes. "Oh my gorsh! How can you say that a wills drafting seminar is more important than a legal issue that isn't handled in the courts but rather by top-level political officials who are more beholden to voters than legal principles? Better offer both!"
Learn to make the hard choices, Dean Wu. Take the soft-serve ice cream off your course catalog until you can afford it. And for the love of God, publish your damn NALP report or shut the hell up about how expensive it is to become transparent.
Just for good measure, we saved the most ridiculous Hastings class for last:
Research Seminar on Career of Roger Traynor - "The student work will contribute to a biography that Professor Hazard is exploring in cooperation with Michael Traynor, the Justice's son and himself a prominent lawyer, and with Professor Emeritus James McCall of Hastings." You get to pay for the privilege of helping your professor write a book that will carry his name, and not yours, and where he'll collect royalties, and not you. Not only is this worthless as a law school class, it is incredibly exploitative and if law schools had serious ethical guidelines the professor would be sacked, along with whoever approved this class.
Guess it takes the most influential person in legal academia to pull off a system where students pay to be research assistants.