Scalia: Legal Education is a “Failure”

March 23rd, 2013

In a talk (at all places) at the University of New Hampshire School of Law, Justice Scalia repeated a common refrain that law schools are failing students. He focused on a few reasons–electives, and professors who focus more on scholarship and teaching.

First, Justice Scalia does not like and Law & ___ classes.

“We now have classes in the law and … the law and literature, the law and feminism, the law and poverty, the law and economics,” Scalia said.

He noted that since legal education was formally created at Harvard in 1870, a systematic breakdown has occurred in teaching and curriculum. “The teaching of law has failed,” he said, because too many elective classes allow students to be lazy and bypass “the austere pleasures of doctrinal courses.”

Second, Justice Scalia noted that professors should not be lured to the trap of focusing primarily on scholarship, rather than teaching.

He also criticized the academic trends that allow law professors to become “prominent not because of how they teach but how they publish.” Scalia said he had also fallen into the trap when as a law professor at the University of Virginia, he “begrudged” time spent away from research and writing to actually teach.

I’ve heard Scalia elaborate on this thread before. He said that when he was teaching at the University of Virginia, he never thought it would happen that he would be more interested in writing than spending time with students, but he eventually got to that phase. However, at one point in his career, when he could place any law review article he wanted in a top journal, he realized he got to that point, and was mad at himself. He told the room full of professors that they should never take that mentality.