Law school professors need more practical experience.

Supreme Court Breakfast Table

Why Don’t Law School Professors Have Practical Experience These Days?

Supreme Court Breakfast Table

Why Don’t Law School Professors Have Practical Experience These Days?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
June 24 2016 5:49 PM

Supreme Court Breakfast Table

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Entry 9: The academy is out of its depth.

US Supreme Court in the detail.
Are law professors too respectful of the Supreme Court?

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Regarding your posting, Akhil:

I don't think the Supreme Court is likely to accept advice from law professors on administrative issues, such as whether to have opinions in tie cases and whether to identify the justices voting for or against cert. The court is understandably likely to think that law professors are not in a position to advise on such issues. I also think there's a growing gap between judges (including the Supreme Court justices) and the academy, which judges tend to think is increasingly distant from the actual practice of law, staffed as it increasingly is with refugees from other disciplines—the graduate students in classics, and history, and anthropology, and so on who upon discovering there were very few well-paying positions in such fields nowadays decided to go to law school and afterward had no time to practice law before getting a law-teaching job.

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I think law schools should be hiring a higher percentage of lawyers with significant practical experience. I think, for example, of Benjamin Kaplan at Harvard Law School, who went into law-teaching after 14 years in practice. There used to be many like that; there are many fewer now, especially at the leading law schools.

On a different subject, I worry that law professors are too respectful of the Supreme Court, in part perhaps because they don't want to spoil the chances of their students to obtain Supreme Court clerkships. I think the Supreme Court is at a nadir. The justices are far too uniform in background, and I don’t think there are any real stars among them; the last real star, Robert Jackson, died more than 60 years ago. I regard the posthumous encomia for Scalia as absurd. Especially those of Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow and Justice Elena Kagan.

And on another note about academia and practical law, I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation (across the centuries—well, just a little more than two centuries, and of course less for many of the amendments). Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21st century. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post–Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today. David Strauss is right: The Supreme Court treats the Constitution like it is authorizing the court to create a common law of constitutional law, based on current concerns, not what those 18th-century guys were worrying about.

In short, let's not let the dead bury the living.

Dick Posner

Richard A. Posner is a judge, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, and a senior lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School.