Magical Mystery Links—ABA-Accredited Schools in China, Reasons for Law Practice Reform, & More on Tenure

(1)  Edward A. Adams, “Harvard Prof Sees Legal Profession in Turmoil”.

Mr. Adams proves I’m clairvoyant.  I published this a few days ago, “[A law school is] really something a community can only build when it is surging with growth.  Like China or India surging.  Not U.S.A. deflating.”  Here, Harvard Professor David B. Wilkins says:

Governments are investing in law and legal innovation as an export item. China and India have both created transnational law schools in which students are trained in English about U.S. and international law. The school in China even plans to seek ABA accreditation so its graduates can take the bar in any U.S. state…” [my emphasis].

Really??  I doubt this ABA-accredited school would be emigrating attorneys to the U.S.A. to open solo practices.  Moreover, its students won’t be borrowing from U.S. banks or the federal government for tuition money.  Something tells me few Americans will move to China for law school, so legal education is unlikely to come across the ocean in the same containers as finished goods.  BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries are investing in law because their economies are growing rapidly and becoming more sophisticated.  When American law schools require courses in these countries’ legal systems, then I’ll be impressed.  As an example, I had to go overseas to take a course in Chinese law.

Aside from the ABA-in-China factoid, I don’t have the 37 minutes to listen to the whole speech but the ABA’s summary didn’t make much sense to me.  Take this statement:

America and American lawyers are less and less at the center of the legal universe, [Wilkins] said. “Even before the crash, many would argue that London had become the center of the economic world. How far east or south will it go? Shanghai, Mumbai, Sao Paulo or all of the above?”

I was writing about international relations theory last week, and it appears Prof. Wilkins is a realist propounding Hegemonic Stability Theory, believing the U.S.’s economic decline will cripple the U.S. and its lawyers.  On the other hand, we could be neoliberal institutionalists who believe that economic interdependency is a good thing for humanity.  We’ve seen India’s growing legal profession before.  I personally find it callous to believe that I’m better off if an Indian peasant remains in poverty than prospers in India’s modernization.  India, I add, is a democracy, which we’re supposed to like.

Regarding China in particular, I’m more a Susan-Shirk-Fragile-Power believer rather than a Rising-China-will-dominate-us-all type.  It’s a Rule by Law state, and no one in their right mind would trust Chinese courts to adjudicate their contract disputes.  Also confusing, if we’re less the legal center of the universe, why would China be building ABA-accredited law schools?  This looks more like bandwaggoning with the U.S. than balancing against it.  As I pointed out above, I’ll be impressed when I’ll have to relearn what little Chinese I remember to stay afloat.

Finally, just which lawyers are Prof. Wilkins’ target audience?  Corporate lawyers?  Most lawyers don’t work in Biglaw.  Transnational corporate work isn’t exactly growing these days anyway, I assure you.  The hottest area is IP law, which essentially means the antiquated body of monopoly protections the U.S. government provides to American businesses so they don’t have to compete with foreigners.

*sigh*

Any American decline is due wholly to the United States government’s failure to (1) prevent catastro-bubbles, (2) maintain full employment, (3) distribute income fairly (even if it’s away from corporate lawyers), and (4) engage in long-term ecologically sustainable industrial policy.  Professor Wilkins, if the ABA’s summary is accurate, should take this into account before trying to “scare the bejeesus out of me,” which he (or at least this article) failed to do.

[Update: Add failure to (5) Demilitarize to the list.]

(2)  Man that link riled me!  Debra Cassens Weiss cheers me up with this pair, “Why Lawyers Should Work No More than 40 Hours a Week,” and, “Does Money Buy Happiness?  Only if You Spend it on Leisure, Research Suggests.”

Fewer hours means more lawyers can be employed (take that attorney oversaturation!), and even lower salaries isn’t the marginal loss that it appears to be.  It also gives yet another reason to tie the billable hour up to a radiator and beat it silly with a rubber hose.  These are things I can live with, but then again, I set minimal standards for my happiness.  I’ve never owned a car, for instance.

(3)  Christopher Beam, “Finishing School: The Case for Getting Rid of Tenure”.

Tenure in legal education came up recently when Northwestern dean David Van Zandt championed tenure reform to the ABA.  Tenure in higher education promotes competitive scholarship over teaching.  It also means that with the tuition bubble law schools are paying mostly increasing six-figure salaries to professors to publish away.  Eliminating tenure would shift academics’ time to classrooms, reducing the need for additional faculty, and it’d probably reduce salaries.  I doubt this’ll happen before the tuition bubble bursts, but we can hope.

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