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Harvard To Start VAP Program Geared Toward Practitioners:
The Harvard Law Record reports:
  Dean Elena Kagan has initiated a new program to bring practicing lawyers to Harvard Law School and provide them an opportunity to start careers in academia. . . .
  The program, which is set to begin in the 2008-09 academic year, will bring practitioners who are interested in academia to Harvard for a two-year position, with the tentative title of "Visiting Assistant Professor." These positions will function much like the Climenko and Houston fellowship positions at Harvard Law and fellowships at other schools that are geared towards recent graduates.
  . . . According to Kagan, one of the reasons so few practitioners are hired by law schools these days is that very few people with substantial practice experience are actually putting themselves forward for entry-level academic positions. The market has shifted such that a much higher percentage of applicants are coming straight from law school or a fellowship.
  Part of this may be due to the difficulty of producing published scholarship while working as a practicing government, nonprofit, or private sector lawyer. "I think that's a shame," said Kagan. "We'd like to see people with more practice experience who also show scholarly potential."
Gump:
And to think that at my school they got rid of all the profs with practical experience.

And now the retired federal judge teaches at the school up the street.
12.4.2007 11:16pm
bla bla (mail):
This is very interesting. I guess the problem with this is that if you leave a biglaw firm for 2 years to do this, it's going to be difficult for you to return to biglaw later. But maybe there are enough disgruntled biglaw lawyers that people will take advantage of this.
12.5.2007 12:03am
Just Saying:
I, for one, find it completely reasonable that law schools value arcane articles published in obscure journals managed by law students more than practical experience in the law. Why have a professor who has done ten years of motion practice over somebody who can convince a 22-year old to publish 50 pages of rambling on critical race theory?
12.5.2007 12:22am
neurodoc:
I'm in accord with the previous posters. It strikes me as strange almost to the point of bizarre that practical experience of the law as an advocate, judge, regulator, etc. counts for so little as a qualification to teach in a top law school.

I understand that graduate programs in philosophy do not aim to turn out "practicing" philosophers, but don't law schools, even the most elite among them, aim to turn out a goodly number who will actually practice as attorneys for some, if not all, of their professional lives? (What percent of the top schools graduates will never practice as attorneys?)

Are medical schools all about "vocational" training, whereas law schools are about something very different, something more akin to a liberal arts undergraduate education and proudly "non-vocational"? The best medical schools have few "pure" clinicians, that is those who only provide care to the patients they see. And medical schools do employ physician and non-physician faculty who may have little or no clinical expertise, devoting most of their time to non-clinical research in their laboratories and teaching basic, pre-clinical sciences. But those who teach future physicians the clinical medicine they will need to know as fledgling physicians and residents/fellows what they will need to know as full-fledged specialists, are among the most experienced and very best clinicians to be found anywhere. The better the law school, the less "practical" teaching, "practical" teaching being the hallmark of non-elite schools?

The celebrated professor of medicine Sir William Osler famously wrote, "To study the phenomena of disease without books is to sail an uncharted sea, while to study books without patients is not to go to sea at all." That is wholly inapt where law schools are concerned? Students who aspire to reach the top of their chosen profession are best off with a faculty comprised mostly of those who have never been to sea at all? Or are the best law schools more about "credentialing" than teaching as such?
12.5.2007 2:11am
neurodoc:
If law students were allowed to chose between a torts class taught by a professor who could rightfully be claim to be a scholar of the law but who had no practical experience of a courtroom and a torts class taught by an outstanding litigator with a wealth of practical experience but no record of "scholarship," would they divide equally? Would any elite law school give its students such a choice?

There are good reasons why what students think best for their educational purposes may not always be best. But what reason is there to think that top notch students would go for the meretricious when chosing among educational alternatives? Wouldn't their choice between the tort class taught by the "scholar" and the one taught by the "practitioner" say something, albeit something the institution might not wish to hear and be unwilling to pay any heed?
12.5.2007 2:28am
kiniyakki (mail):
Three thoughts. First, for the poor law professors being mocked for not being practioners ... isn't there some merit to the idea that law is not like walking, that you cannot "just do it" - but you have to understand some of the theory behind it?

Second, medical schools are a little different b/c they have an residency program that is required. Required practical training. Law schools do not.

Third (and what I am most interested), any speculation as to what type/level of practitioner will be hired? State level attorneys? Federal? Big firms only? Also, Orin Kerr - since I am one of these "practing attorneys" who has no time to read things like the Harvard Law Record (and I'm trying to say this in a non-sarcastic way but it isn't working) - will you track this story and give us an update of who is hired under this program? I'm sure that a few people would be curious.
12.5.2007 3:20am
tvk:
neurodoc, the choice you describe is already available at law schools (albeit not for 1L torts), the practitioners are called "adjuncts". No offense to adjuncts, but they are not usually regarded as the best teachers because they tend to be overly doctrinal. This might reflect my own elite law school bias, but a student who really likes learning only doctrine is probably not going to do well in law school.
12.5.2007 5:17am
SHG (www):
Aside from the other questions raised, a 2 year stint is very impractical for most practicing lawyers. After 2 years, your practice is gone and you are left to start over. It may work as a Biglaw sabatical, but it would be the death knell for any solo or small firm lawyer. So, one should consider the potential universe of practicing lawyers would seek a 2 year VAP position.
12.5.2007 5:33am
Irritable Alum:
Let's see how much practice experience makes someone a "practitioner" who qualifies for this program. If it's less than seven years, then I call bull**** on this whole thing--another way to get the same candidate (Yale/Harvard, clerkship, insignificant practice experience) onto the market while effectively ghettoizing anyone with even minimal practice experience.

Also, seriously, why does someone need to do a fellowship to go on the job market? One word: connections. The fellowship is basically a way to meet fancy professors who will make phone calls for you.

Third point: a commenter above writes that a student who likes learning only doctrine is not going to do well in law school. This is true. So my question is: why the heck not? A student who likes learning only doctrine will probably be a fine lawyer, maybe even a great lawyer. Why the heck shouldn't he do well in law school?
12.5.2007 6:55am
Ted Frank (www):
It strikes me as strange almost to the point of bizarre that practical experience of the law as an advocate, judge, regulator, etc. counts for so little as a qualification to teach in a top law school.

It's worse than "so little"—extensive practice experience is considered close to disqualifying.
12.5.2007 8:40am
LIberal Libertarian:

I understand that graduate programs in philosophy do not aim to turn out "practicing" philosophers


Sure they do. They do it badly. But all train folks with an eye to go out on the academic market. And some even want to train folks to go out into the non-academic world.
12.5.2007 9:19am
T. Gracchus (mail):
No mention of age discrimination - rampant in academic hiring.
12.5.2007 9:36am
Adam J:
tvk- At my school at least, adjuncts were far and away the best teachers.
12.5.2007 10:36am
Dave N (mail):
My absolute best professor was a part time federal magistrate judge (he had a full course load and from what I understand, fairly close to a full case load). I learned a whole lot more from him than the professors who were more theoretical.
12.5.2007 11:55am
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
There you go--Harvard Law School is having a guilt complex about using 3rd and 4th tier single-mother law grads/bar applicants with autism as experimental research fodder in their HLS-DOJ-Sabin Counterterrorism program to see if they can make more *domestic homegrown terrorists* little Teddy Kazinskis. Way to go HLS ...,

I have a suggestion Harvard Law School--when you implement your new program, maybe you should hire some VAPs who believe in civil liberties, maybe even a real person with autism to teach a real course from one who actually litigates Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act and not some non-disabled window-dressing who pretends to know the difference between Couterterrorism and civili liberties.

Oh, I forgot, Harvard's ADA accommodations page indicates persons with autism are not valued, since autism is the one disability not mentioned.
12.5.2007 12:15pm
Mary Katherine Day-Petrano (mail):
corr: "Couterterrorism and civili liberties"=Counterterrorism and civil liberties
12.5.2007 12:17pm
TerrencePhilip:
That sounds like a great idea. My hat's off to them.
12.5.2007 12:30pm
Gideon Kanner (mail):
Kagan's explanation is absurd. There are lots of smart, experienced middle aged lawyers out there who have accumulated some money and would love to change careers and teach -- some of them at least would be well qualified to do so. But practice experience is anathema to academics and successful practitioners are not seriously considered for teaching posts. End of story.

Maybe Harvard's effort, if it is sincere and if it gains support from the faculty, will help change thisngs. Maybe.
12.5.2007 1:05pm
Pliny, the Elder (mail):
Most of the good criticisms have already been made, here or in Posner's excellent book, The Problematics of Moral and Legal Theory.
The one group that such a VAP might attract would be governmet lawyers who might obtain a leave of absence and use the two years to (possibly publish and) consider changing career directions.

My experience in full-time law school teaching was limited to a single year, after clerking for a state supreme court and practcing a bit, and I must concede that practical experience was not highly valued.

All that said, if HLS is serious I might apply, though I would be surprised and I were selected.
12.5.2007 1:42pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
The commenters who wonder how the VAPs will return to practice after two years away are missing the point. This program is for those who want to leave practice and become academics. As the first sentence of the quotes passage explains, the positions are meant to give the VAPs "an opportunity to start careers in academia. . . . "
12.5.2007 5:07pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I went to a "2nd-tier" state law school and wiped the floor recently witha Harvard grad who was sadly unprepared to litigate an actual premises liability case. Boy, he could recite the hornbook, but couldn't respond to an MSJ to save his life.

I'll take practical over theoretical any day. Even at my "2nd-tier" state school, we had a bunch of theoretical soldiers. I learned a lot more from the few adjuncts who actually knew how to litigate case. I have been practicing a year, and I have litigated more 1983 cases, one, than all of the professors there that spend their lives teaching it combined.
12.5.2007 11:33pm
neurodoc:
tvk, I am well aware of "adjunct" faculty, the good and the terrible. The adjunct I had for Evidence was a former federal prosecutor, now partner in a prestigious firm doing high-powered criminal defense work. He was excellent and "real," able to illustrate much with examples drawn from his personal experience. (The terrible was a well-meaning, non-lawyer peace activist who taught "The Law of Non-Violence," truly an embarassment to the school, though a progressive associate dean would not hear it. I sat in on one class to get some idea of it, and was incredulous that such a course was being given for credit, albeit only 2 hours.)

"No offense to adjuncts, but they are not usually regarded as the best teachers because they tend to be overly doctrinal." I, like Adam J, would disagree with the your first assertion. (Tenured professors are forever, whether they are regarded as good teachers or not. Adjuncts who are not regarded as good teachers can be thanked and not invited to continue. Kinda like the difference between herpes being forever, love only so long as it continues.)

The "overly doctrinal," I'm not sure about. Do you mean that adjuncts tend to spend less time on the abstractions (historical evolution of the law, underlying theories, overarching philosophy, social and economics perspectives, etc.) and more on the practical aspects and applications in the area of law they are teaching? That may well be so, and may account for why most schools do not have adjuncts teaching first-year subjects, using them instead for 2nd and 3rd year courses.

kiniyakki, I fully agree that medical schools are different from law schools in many ways. But why should the "practical" be fundamental in the former, while anything but in the latter? If law schools wish to be more like liberal arts colleges in their "other worldliness" (not meant as disparagement), then why don't they admit their students directly from high school or after only a year beyond high school, like I believe schools in the UK do with those who wish to "read" law, and require that they continue on with "practical" training before they are turned loose on the world as lawyers? Is our system for training lawyers better than the UK one, or are there "cultural" and "institutional" differences that make them incomparable?

As for the multi-year residency programs that most physicians go through these days before entering practice, most, and certainly the best ones, are done in university hospitals under the tutelage of the same faculty who teach 3rd and 4th year medical students during the course of their clinical clerkships. (A lot of clinical teaching is done by fellows teaching residents and students and residents teaching students, with the faculty overseeing it all and participating directly to varying degrees at different times.)

[Re medical school faculty appointments, it should be noted that there are often "research" professorships in clinical departments for those who would sequester themselves in a lab and not be obliged to attend patients or teach students, and there are "clinical" professorships of various ranks for private practitioners who serve part-time like adjunct faculty in law schools, these in addition to the core faculty who get tenure and are usually expected to do it all, that is see patients, teach, and pursue research. In contrast to law schools professors, the vast majority of medical school professors have themselves done what their students will go on to do after graduating and fully qualifying.]

But rather than discussing why aren't American law schools more like American medical schools, I think it would be more interesting to discuss why the American approach to legal training differs, for better or worse, from the English one, which disposes of the classroom phase sooner and requires the practical experience piece of it. After all, it is about how lawyers are turned out by our schools, not about who gets tapped for law school faculty positions and the conditions of their employment (e.g., tenure), isn't it?
12.6.2007 1:16am
Adam J:
wow neurodoc, so nice that we can finally agree on something.
12.6.2007 10:18am
neurodoc:
Adam J, I didn't/don't recall any history of disagreements with you. Have there been any of any consequence? (BTW, if you go back to look at that thread about the Adam Liptak column about the felony murder rule, you will see that I aligned myself with you on "forseeability," doing so against the generally formidable David M. Nieporent. Non-ideologue that I am, I just call balls and strikes as I see them.)

Oh, on the compare/contrast medical schools and law schools - it must be rare for physicians who have in clinical practice outside a university setting for any length of time to then get a tenure-track faculty position, though not so rare as a practicing attorney getting a tenure-track law school position. The physician clinician, like the legal clinician, would likely have to show they would do more than just teach, they would have to show research potential, something that would be very difficult for most to do.
12.6.2007 1:44pm
JosephSlater (mail):
I'm surprised that this far into the thread, nobody has made the following point. Law school rankings are not based in any way on whether profs have practical experience (or really even if they are competent teachers). Law school rankings are, however, based in part on "academic reputation," which comes from, among other things, publishing articles.

Please note that I am not defending the rankings system. But rankings do matter, to students, faculty, and alums. Proponents of getting different types of people into law teaching jobs should consider how to change the incentives. And it's not necessarily obvious how to do that.
12.6.2007 1:53pm
Adam J:
Neurodoc- oops, looking back we only had one tussel with Pakistan, I think I confused you with the big bad Nieporent that you just mentioned.

JosephSlater- that of course is the problem, a law school seeks and gain prestigue by getting good researchers, not good teachers- the two aren't mutually exclusive, but neither are they even remotely related. Not to mention that every school has a handful of tenured professors that are clearly past their prime or just don't give a damn anymore. I typically looked for adjuncts and associate professors when I was picking classes. As for reform, I dunno how that's supposed to work, since all the people with the power to change the system probably have a vested interest in keeping it the same.
12.6.2007 2:22pm
neurodoc:
Adam J, I don't know what might have occasioned that "one tussel (sic) with Pakistan," but I would be delighted to cede to you the entirety of that benighted country, especially the tribal areas, provided only that you would take personal responsibility for putting that miserable place in order.

As for "big bad Nieporent" (BBN), I think he is a valuable contributor to these boards and I am inclined to agree with that part of what he says which is not excessively Republican and/or libertarian (i.e., the ideology uber alles part which slights religious values that don't comport with libertarian notions and which ignores the lessons that most learn through their experiences of others and the world at large.) BBN is far more knowledgeable of the law than I, and I wouldn't have challenged him on the forseeability business if it did not seem silly on its face to maintain you were wrong to say that forseeabity was not required for the felony murder rule to apply because in fact forseeability was disposed of with a non-rebuttable presumption; and that strangeness about the impossibility of "proving" forseeability.
12.6.2007 5:08pm
neurodoc:
Adam J, I don't know what might have occasioned that "one tussel (sic) with Pakistan," but I would be delighted to cede to you the entirety of that benighted country, especially the tribal areas, provided only that you would take personal responsibility for putting that miserable place in order.

As for "big bad Nieporent" (BBN), I think he is a valuable contributor to these boards and I am inclined to agree with that part of what he says which is not excessively Republican and/or libertarian (i.e., the ideology uber alles part which slights religious values that don't comport with libertarian notions and which ignores the lessons that most learn through their experiences of others and the world at large.) BBN is far more knowledgeable of the law than I, and I wouldn't have challenged him on the forseeability business if it did not seem silly on its face to maintain you were wrong to say that forseeabity was not required for the felony murder rule to apply because in fact forseeability was disposed of with a non-rebuttable presumption; and that strangeness about the impossibility of "proving" forseeability.
12.6.2007 5:08pm
Gullyborg (mail) (www):
Wouldn't it make sense for a school to have a variety of professors with different backgrounds, and for students to have a balance of theoretical and practical courses?

Just saying.

And this doesn't apply just to law, but to all fields of study.

A person who wants to focus on strictly theoretical scholarship should have the ability to do so... but maybe not at the JD level (or the lowest tier for any curriculum). There are schools offering advanced degrees for that sort of thing.

You know what professors need to have, but often lack? It isn't necessarily practical experience. Every one of my law profs save one had at least a few years of real world practice of one sort or another. The one who didn't, my 1L torts prof, has been teaching for billions of years (just kidding, CF!). Nor it is necessarily an academic background. No, the deficiency is in TEACHING SKILLS. Most public schools make teachers go through a long and arduous credentialling process that teaches how to teach, not subject matter. But most professors, of law, medicine, or any other college course, are professors because they have academic achievement, not great teaching skills.

In my ideal world, there would be a LL.M. program designed specifically to teach lawyers how to be law professors, and most of the better law schools would offer it. Students would be admitted based on overall legal ability, be it from practice (say 10 years or more) or academic achievement (say top graduate, clerkship, fellowship, perhaps LL.M or S.J.D. specialization). The curriculum would be one semester of concentrated study in the field you want to specialize in (say, torts). There would be at least one "practical" class taught by someone with tons of real experience and involving real case work. And there would be several classes on advanced theory. The second term would focus on teaching methods. A final requirement for graduation would be teaching a summer school class, like a student teaching position for a public school teacher, where one of the professors would guide and grade you on your ability to teach the subject matter.

Graduates of such a program would then be qualified as subject matter experts AND as teachers, and whether their background is practice, academia, or a mix of both, they should (in theory) be able to pass on knowledge to young skulls full of mush.

For the practicing attorney, this would be a one year academic program, and that could easily be a sabatical from work. It might even be possible to continue working part-time to prevent losing clients, etc. Once the program is completed, the practicing attorney need not give up practice. There are plenty of opportunities to teach part time, at night, etc. So there is no reason why qualified practicing attorneys who like making money or working cases couldn't also teach, and share their valuable experience with students.

And again, why stop with law? Why not have something like a M.A.T. degree geared towards teaching skills at the college level? And why require all professors to have a Ph.D. in their field, when real-world work experience can be so valuable? I'd rather learn engineering from someone with a M.S. and 20 years of industry experience than someone with a Ph.D. who never left the classroom. Actually, that's how I DID learn my engineering, for the most part. But my alma mater is drifting away from that and is now focusing on getting an all-Ph.D. teaching staff. Bad move in my opinion.

So, regarding Harvard - is their plan a good one? Honestly, I don't know if it will work as intended or not. But I appplaud them for trying to shake things up, and I hope it does bring some more practical experience into academia.
12.6.2007 6:25pm
kiniyakki (mail):
neurodoc (Does this name refer to a medical background?) - I've been exposed as somebody who knows little and gets most of his knowledge of the medical field from Scrubs. My intention in my comment was only to point out that to be a fully licensed doctor a person must have several years of practical experience. A person could go to law school and get be a fully licensed lawyer with no practical experience.

But further, I think the answer to your question is unfortunately simple - law school is the way it is b/c it is institutionalized. It is engrained that "to become a lawyer, thou shalt complete a JD and pass the bar" - I don't see it changing soon.

The best response I can make is that experience is valued on the job market. From early in law school, students are trying to get jobs in law, to show they have some experience to be hired for a future job. This comes as clerking for firm, or can come after law school by being a law clerk. Not required to become a practicing lawyer, but the market at least addresses it. (unless you go to a great school - in which case damn the experience, full speed ahead - get a job in a public defender office and file approximately 10 motions per week and lose all of them, try to twist the law to fit your intellectual concept of what it should be instead of just settling for what it is now, and pull your clients through a mess to demonstrate your (mis)perceived brilliance instead of just taking a good offer ... but I'm starting to change the topic, and I digress)
12.6.2007 9:32pm
Curious (mail):
I'm curious, folks Some of you have stated that one who does a 2 year VAP couldn't go back into practice afterwards. Is that true? Why? Couldn't a law prof decide that academia isn't for her and become a practicing lawyer and, indeed, be quite good at it? What am I missing?
12.6.2007 9:37pm
neurodoc:
Curious, it isn't that someone who left practice to do the 2-year VAP "couldn't go back into practice afterwards." It is that they would likely find it difficult, if not very difficult, to get anything roughly equivalent to what they had before leaving practice to do the VAP. They would not be welcomed back to a firm with the enthusiasm shown associates returning after Supreme Court clerkships, nor partners returning after serving a while in some important government position. And firms, where the real money is to be made, are not much interested in hiring new partners who are not bringing with them a big book of business, the prestige of a respected federal judge stepping down from the bench, or the great rainmaking potential of a retiring Congressional power.
12.7.2007 12:45am
Anon. (mail):
Neurodoc -- That makes sense. But what if said VAP were, say, a 6th year associate? Could such an individual come back as, say, a 7th year associate or an of counsel?
12.7.2007 1:30am
neurodoc:
Anon., I, someone who has not had a "traditional" career in the law myself, am not very well suited to offer anything more than highly speculative answers to questions like yours. But what the hell...

Let's imagine ourselves managing partners in the heavyweight firm that he/she left to have a go at that VAP program, and he/she is now asking to be taken back in some capacity. How might we see as the pros and cons of taking him/her back? Pros: the person had stellar credentials when we hired them and performed well for the six years they were with us, getting along with everyone and seemingly happy enough, so that we were surprised when they announced they were going off to try this VAP thing. Cons: nothing shameful about how they spend their time away in that VAP program, but don't see how it makes them any more valuable the firm afterwards. We don't have a strictly pyramidal system, but we do tend to winnow the ranks and not all who we keep for 6 years will be offered partnership after 2 or 3 more years. Would the person's peer group be genuinely happy to accept them back, and if taken back, will the person pick up the beat quickly and generate more income/profit than we will pay them? Are they really committed to the practice of law, especially to the practice of law in this firm, or might we take them back only to be unpleasantly surprised when we learn that they are leaving again and taking business with them out the door?

If the firm is making money hand over fist when the prodigal wants to return, and there is a place for the prodigal, then his/her chances will be decidedly better than in leaner times. But hard to see the would-be returnee doing as well as he/she would do if returning from highly significant job in government rather than the VAP, and wouldn't bet on the returnee doing as well as they would be doing if they have never left. If the would be returnee was not such a stellar performer up until the moment they went off to do that VAP with the intention of making themselves over into an academic, then it might prove vey difficult to get anything close to what they hoped to get, and what they probably would have had if they had never left. If I were contemplating the VAP, I would be very concerned about the "what if it doesn't work out," but maybe I am just an insecure person.

So, FWIW, that's my speculation. Maybe someone who has seen these sorts of things (person leaves to try their hand at something else, it doesn't work out, and they want back in) play out in real life will tell us how it really plays out.
12.7.2007 5:25pm