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Thursday, August 26, 2010

Are your law professors really the right ones?

One of NBR's buddies, Brent Newton, has published an article that's already received a lot of good press (see here for TaxProf Blog's take on the article; see here for the Law Librarian Blog's take on it).

One of us is busy working on his day job right now, but the other one of us (guess who?) does have her own take on the issue of faculty credentials. 

As Prof. Newton points out, professors--like every other employer--have a tendency to want to duplicate themselves with their new hires.  What more self-affirming act is there than hiring someone who is almost exactly like you?  But just as universities do best when they have a mix of theory and practice, so should law schools.  We shouldn't want all Ph.D.-J.D. faculty members, and we shouldn't want all "find your way to the courthouse" faculty members.  We need both. 

But, as Thomas Sowell has pointed out time and time again, what we really need is folks who know what they don't know.  Some theory-based faculty members can argue cases quite well in real life (e.g., Kathleen Sullivan, one of my heroes).  Others are better at theory than practice.  (I've actually been quite impressed at how many faculty members coming from practice are really good at theory, but I'm not a bit surprised.  Great lawyers use theory in their practice all the time.)

What I think we really need is a law faculty hiring process that focuses on how best to create a mix that will add to legal knowledge (scholarship) and add to legal expertise (teaching).

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