Lawyers and Law Professors Erupt in Bitter Debate After Identification of “ScamProf”

It is often said that “academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.”[FN1] Some may view the recent dust up between University of Colorado Paul Campos (left) and University of Chicago law professor Brian Leiter as such an example. However, there are some important issues raised in the controversy over the writings of “ScamProf.” Campos recently admitted that he is the anonymous law professor who created such a stir with a criticism of law teaching and law schools. Critics say that Campos only came forward after various bloggers had deduced his identity. However, Leiter and others went further and challenged Campos personally and professionally.

Previously adopting the pseudonym of “ScamProf,” Campos described himself as a tenured law professor “located within a good regional university with some nationally recognized departments.” I am not sure how his colleagues at Colorado feel about being described as a regional law school, but many professors took offense at his attacks on law professor as spending little time on teaching and having only shallow knowledge of their teaching subjects. He also called law schools a “scam.”

In his original anonymous criticism, Campos wrote:

[O]ver the past few years, a dark cloud, wispy at first, yet slowly and inexorably growing, has appeared in the azure skies of my professional life. Now, a couple of weeks before the beginning of another school year, it has grown to thundercloudish proportions.

It is this: I can no longer ignore that, for a very large proportion of my students, law school has become something very much like a scam. And who is doing the scamming? On the most general level, the American economy in the second decade of the 21st century. On a more specific level, the legal profession as a whole. But on what, for legal academics at least, ought to be the most particular, most important, and most morally and practically compelling level, the scammers are the 200 ABA-accredited law schools. Yet there is no such thing as a “law school” that scams its students — law schools are abstract social institutions, not concrete moral agents. When people say “law school is a scam,” what that really means, at the level of actual moral responsibility, is that law professors are scamming their students.

Leiter was one of those bloggers who said that they had figured out the identity of ScamProf and launched into an attack on Campos as a “failed academic who has done almost no scholarly work in the last decade, teaches the same courses and seminars year in and year out, and spends his time trying to attract public attention, sometimes under his own name, this time anonymous, . . . [Campos is] just doing what he always does, trying to surf the wave of the latest fad and attract attention to himself.” Here is the thrust of Leiter objections, which notably include the effort of Campos to have Ward Churchill denied academic freedom:

Paul Campos is, of course, most notorious in the legal academy for going on the O’Reilly Factor–yes,the O’Reilly Factor–to call for Ward Churchill to be fired for his offensive political opinions (long before any allegations of academic misconduct arose). And this wasn’t an anomaly: he also called for Glenn Reynolds (Tennessee) to be sanctioned by his university for his offensive political opinions. Fortunately for Professor Campos, his contempt for the First Amendment rights of state university professors do not constitute binding precedents on the courts, and I am confident his university won’t sanction him for his irresponsible speech. They should, however, launch an investigation into whether he is performing his duties, since his blog is tantamount to an admission of dereliction of duties and his ‘scholarly’ record is prima facie evidence of failure to do his job as a professor at a major research university.

But back to the fact-free smear. Among the gems: (1) denying that he’s met me, when we’ve met more than once; (2) attacking me for running law and philosophy blogs and rankings (despite my cyber-hobbies, I’ve produced more scholarship in the last five years than he’s produced in twenty); (3) stating, falsely, that “law school costs have increased exponentially, even as the job prospects of law school graduates have declined” (law school tuition, like all higher education tuition, has increased exponentially for thirty years, and during most of that time the legal job market was strong; tuition increases have slowed considerably since the downturn in the job market that began with the Great Recession in 2008); (4) stating, falsely, that I’ve never held a job for which a law degree is required; and so on. And then, of course, there’s the pitiful anti-intellectualism, worthy of Rick Perry’s approach to higher education, but there’s no need to belabor that for this audience. Given that Professor Campos’s “scholarship” would not survive his Rick Perry approach to scholarship, perhaps it’s time for him to resign? …

It is unfortunate that some victims of the recession think, falsely, that ScamProf Campos is doing something courageous on their behalf. He’s not, he’s just doing what he always does, trying to surf the wave of the latest fad and attract attention to himself. For years, I’ve pressed for better job placement data and cautioned students about the reality of the recent job market and relying on the data in US News. There’s no dispute about the importance of that. There’s no dispute that some law schools have misled prospective students; some are now being sued, and we will see what facts come to light. There’s no dispute that some faculty, in all disciplines, abuse the privilege of tenure–Campos is a prime example. None of this warrants the absurdly offensive description of American legal education as a “scam.” The American legal system is one of the best in the world–did that happen despite American legal education? The leading law firms continue to recruit at the leading law schools, the ones that produce all the scholarship ScamProf Campos derides. Are they simply benighted? Law professors, at least the good ones (like most of Campos’s colleagues at Colorado that I know), teach substantive doctrine in many areas of law as well as analytical and dialectical skills that lawyers need. (My teaching evaluations, by the way, are a matter of public record, will ScamProf Campos share his?) There’s been debates for years about the relative balance of doctrinal, theoretical, and clinical teaching in legal education, and those will no doubt continue, independent of ScamProf Campos.

Other bloggers have criticized Leiter for a “smear” on Campos while others have piled on Campos. Over at Simple Justice (an excellent blog that covers criminal issues), Scott Greenfield observed Campos “was far more popular with practicing lawyers and law students, but then, we don’t get a law school paycheck or judge our manhood by the number of articles published in law reviews.” Over at Constitutional Daily, they note that “[l]ooking at the discussions about LawProf (now known to be Paul Campos of Colorado) on other professorial sites, the need for more serious logical reasoning in legal academia becomes clear.”

Campos then published a reply and further mocked Leiter’s own work “on such complex and important subjects as those explored in ‘Rorty and the Philosophical Tradition: Comment on Professor Szubka’ … and in ‘Explaining Theoretical Disagreement.’” His longer reply read in part:

It is thus with a certain sadness that I note one of the leading lights of contemporary legal academia, Professor Brian Leiter, the Karl N. Llewellyn Professor of Jurisprudence and Director, Center for Law, Philosophy, and Human Value, at the University of Chicago Law School, has, I have been told, chosen to point out to the world that, in comparison to himself, I am a poor scholar and have reprehensible work habits, rather than responding to any of my arguments about the state of the contemporary law school. This is unfortunate, as who could doubt that someone with Professor Leiter’s extensive training in the analytic philosophical tradition would not have many valuable contributions to make regarding such questions as precisely why law school costs have increased exponentially, even as the job prospects of law school graduates have declined? (When I was doing background research for this piece I was reminded that the law faculty on which Professor Leiter currently serves includes several legal academics whose own professional work is in every sense admirable. I can only imagine how pleased they are to have acquired someone with Professor Leiter’s unique set of talents).

Nor can anyone doubt that Professor Leiter would add a valuable voice to the debate regarding how much contemporary legal academic scholarship is actually worth the remarkably high price students are required to pay for it. One must admit that it would be unrealistic to expect someone as busy as Professor Leiter to take time away from the rest of his many professional obligations to note the substance of this blog, let alone that he should be expected to put in the effort necessary to evaluate the academic talents and personal character of its author. Professor Leiter already makes a significant sacrifice of his time and talents by maintaining a blog that catalogs in exquisite detail the professional comings and goings of legal academics and professors of philosophy. He also devotes his remarkably wide-ranging abilities to constructing and maintaining a set of law school rankings (as well as another one for philosophy faculties), that does a far more rigorous job of determining the precise academic quality — or at least prestige — of the publications of law school faculty than the rightly-reviled set published by U.S. News & World Report.

Without Professor Leiter’s exemplary work on the subject, legal academics and the world at large would both find it much more difficult to determine whether, for example, the faculties of the NYU and Columbia law schools have had the fifth and sixth greatest scholarly impact on their fields over the past five years, or vice versa. (Professor Leiter’s deans and faculty colleagues must find it especially gratifying that his rankings consistently discover that whatever school currently employs him deserves a a higher spot in the legal academic hierarchy than is assigned to it in the USNWR rankings).

Nor can anyone blame Professor Leiter for refusing to bring his expertise and experience to bear on such matters as the extent to which law schools actually train students to engage in some aspect of the practice of law, given that he has never held any professional position for which a law degree (let alone bar admission) is a requirement. On this subject, his silence reflects a becoming and characteristic modesty.

I am hardly in a position to dispute Professor Leiter’s evaluation of the quality of my scholarship, both because I haven’t seen it, and because, as I believe Freidrich Nietzsche observed (or perhaps it was Lord Coke), no man should be a judge in his own case. That Professor Leiter’s scholarship, touching on such complex and important subjects as those explored in “Rorty and the Philosophical Tradition: Comment on Professor Szubka.” 25 Diametros 159 (2010),” and in “Explaining Theoretical Disagreement.” 76 University of Chicago Law Review 1215 (2009) (also published in Spanish in Analisis y Derecho), neither of which I have read, but which I plan to give my full attention as soon as time permits, is of both the highest quality and the deepest relevance to the mission of the contemporary law school is a proposition that surely no one qualified to evaluate the question would bother to dispute. As for a comparison of our work habits and moral character, I have never met, let alone worked with, Professor Leiter, so I must regretfully leave such comparisons to the tools employed by others.

All of which is to say that I welcome substantive discussion and disagreement about the issues raised on this blog, but have no interest in pursuing evaluations of personal character and the like. No reasonable person can deny that, in the course of what to all outward appearances is a brilliant career, Professor Leiter has played the legal academic game superbly well, and I wish him the best of luck in his future endeavors (assuming, of course, that those endeavors do not involve any actionable statements regarding the targets of his ire). For the moment, it is enough to note that the kind of work he does has its rewards, and that which I do has others.

I really do not like the personal turn of this debate and the incivility that has characterized the commentary on various sites.

I remain a bit skeptical of Campos rationale for writing anonymously. He insists that “I chose initial anonymity in an effort to keep the argument focused on the substance of the debate, rather than on the hierarchical status and personal qualities of those participating in it.” I do not see how revealing yourself would be a distraction. Instead, various bloggers like Ann Althouse wrote that she doubted it was even a law professor and was likely a student.

I share the disagreement with much of what Campos has said in his criticism. I consider the average level of law teaching in this country to be quite good. It is very difficult to get a teaching job at most schools and generally professors are quite distinguished in their academic and professional work. Moreover, I have long disagreed with those (including some of my friends) who have issued dire warnings of a collapsing legal market unable to sustain the current level of graduates. These warnings appear detached from the data. When one considers even a low to zero growth in legal business (which is unlikely given the natural increase in work on divorces, estates, crime and other areas with the increasing population), there remains a rough parity between entering graduates and departing lawyers (through retirement, death, or voluntary departures to work in other fields). This is particularly true for first and second tier law schools which have the advantage in hiring over lower ranked schools. Moreover, there are indications of even larger firms increasing their hiring rates this year. If there is continued downturn, it does not merit some of these apocalpytic predictions.

I also strongly object to Campos referring to faculty as engaged in a scam. With during the lower higher rates of the last few years (where the entire economy was down), law schools still had hiring rates that most graduates schools could only envy. First tier schools often showed 80-90 percent employment rates. Clearly, we went through a couple years where the rate was lower and it remains deflated. Our own employment rates have continued to be 90 percent, though students often took a bit longer to find work and often did not get their top choices. There was a reduction in the very top paying slots and some schools have been called out for misleading or false statistics. However, the ABA and AALS was fast to crackdown on such violations — faster than I would expect in most graduate programs. I am not belittling the experience of many of my students, who have had to work extra hard. Indeed, the writings of Scamprof could have been the basis for a welcomed discussion of these issues if it did not degrade into such personal exchanges.

The greatest threat to law in my view is not the number of law schools but the move (including among some top schools) to shorten legal education to crank out more graduates in a two-year program. I view three years as already too short and such moves would likely result in few courses on history, philosophy, and the foundations of legal analysis. It would put law school more on the footing of trade schools. There are already new schools offering short and easy tracks to J.D. degrees. The result are lawyers who learn little depth about the legacy and theories that support our profession. The graduation of such one-dimensional lawyers degrade the profession as a whole. Too many law schools do little beyond training students for the bar. If lawyers are not educated on legal history and theory in law school, it is doubtful that most will pick it up on their own later in their careers. I continue to believe that the best lawyers are those who understand not just the letter of the law but the origins and motivating principles of the law.

Absent all of the over-heated rhetoric and insults, this could have been a useful debate if it had begun with greater openness and civility. We are a profession in a most developmental or transitional stage. If we can move beyond the personalities, there is a lot to discuss.

FN1 — this statement is usually attributed to Henry Kissinger when he was a Harvard professor. That appears to be wrong. The statement is likely an observation from either Harvard political scientist Richard Neustadt or Wallace Sayre, former Professor of Government and Public Administration at Columbia University.

Source: ABA Journal

20 thoughts on “Lawyers and Law Professors Erupt in Bitter Debate After Identification of “ScamProf”

  1. A real pissing match between these two “academics”. Maybe they should worry more about the problems their students are facing instead of spending so much time going after each other.

  2. Prior to my thoughts let me make something clear. I flunked out of St. Johns University Law School after two and a half years of going at night. i have a high IQ, am a naturally fast reader/retainer of information and a highly skilled test taker. Up until going to Law School I skated through HS and College, rarely doing homework and relying on last minute cramming to pull me through. After the experience at St. Johns I went on to be a mostly A student, studying for my Masters at an Ivy League Graduate School.

    The reason is simple. At St. Johns, a good but not first rate Law School, I found myself intellectually challenged for the first time and it became evident I would actually have to work and learn to get through. Unfortunately, I only came to that realization in the after affect of my first academic failure. My assumption is that most good Law Schools, Regent to the contrary, have developed a method of teaching that is brilliant and can be quite stimulating to a student’s thought processes.

    Even though eventually negative, my time at St. Johns gave me a deep appreciation of the Law and in my later career I was able to use much of what I learned in Contracts and Tax Law to my professional advantage. Because of this I view Professor Campos conclusions with a jaundiced eye.

    As for the fierceness of the debate the entire field of academics seems to lend itself to often virulent disagreement. I think it is because when one invests their career in certain intellectual ideas, any attack on those ideas is perceived as an attack of the very foundation of their self-hood.

  3. I prefer to remain annoying….oh no that is anonymously… I can see there is a difference….I may have been known to use a sock-puppet or two…

  4. Gyges,

    Thank goodness a Tax Attorney has that little ole thing called privilege…

    Mikes,

    Confession is good for the soul I hear….Clear the plate off for the next years mischievousness…

  5. As for the fierceness of the debate the entire field of academics seems to lend itself to often virulent disagreement. I think it is because when one invests their career in certain intellectual ideas, any attack on those ideas is perceived as an attack of the very foundation of their self-hood.

    So true.

    There are “current” textbooks that still have “vestigial appendix” in them, even though doctors know better now.

    Why they think deceit or propaganda is better than reality is an interesting study in itself.

  6. You misread the article you linked to on Constitutional Daily.

    It’s Campos’s critics that are being attacked for a lack of logic training. Their argument is that Campos is unfit, not a very good thinker, terrible academic, etc. If those allegations are true, then it looks very bad for the school to have such a person work for 20 years and have tenure.

  7. Anything that could blow up the law profession is a good thing. You can all go to hell.

    I am familiar with only one form of law, the receiving end of the bullshit of family court. What appears obvious is that lawyers for all sides equally agree about how terrible family court is, and yet, the lawyers won’t raise a finger to reform it.

    Then there is John Woo, in which no lawyers would try to get him disbarred.

    So fuck all of you. Fuck you twice.

  8. I’m sorry, but whenever I hear “80 to 90 percent employment rate”, I can only laugh bitterly. For the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011, I can assure you the REAL employment rates(that is, paying gigs that require a JD and a law license) are far lower than 80 or 90 percent. I’m fortunate that I had a job while in law school, and retain that position, though that will be cold comfort when those first loan payments come due. The classmates I’ve spoken to, while fairly accomplished in school, are universally gloomy about their employment prospects. Professor Campos is far more attuned to the actual state of post-graduate legal employment than almost all of his critics. It would behoove all law professors to improve their awareness of the legal job market for recent grads. If they truly understood the situation we’re in, they might focus less on defending their institutional reps against some perceived slight, and more on how to actually help the people they taught.

  9. GWClass,
    My daughter graduated cum laude from Loyola of Chicago in 2010 with Moot Court and Law Journal experience and she just obtained her first full time attorney position a couple of months ago. I think you are probably correct that the placement percentage is much lower than advertised. At least for the last 3 years.

  10. It is tough. My daughter starts back this week as a 2L, and she has been interviewing for a job for next summer. It is all about the rank of the law school and class rank these days. I think the graduating class of 2007 was the last one that fared very well overall.

  11. Campos’ opening paragraph was impressive up to the word “thundercloudish” … he could have used Elaine’s help.

    According to the lawyers I know, the employment situation over the last 2-3 years has been difficult for new grads. After reading rafflaw’s and GWLaw Class of 2011 Evening’s posts I tend to agree.

  12. It is disheartening to 1) see so few commentors engage with Campos’ critiques, and 2) to see Prof. Turley dismiss Campos’ critiques so readily. I have heard many people use the word “scam” to refer to law school as well as the entire structure of the legal profession — from the LSAT through our legal “education”, the Bar exam(s), restrictions on practice from one state to another, the general pointlessness (and expense) of CLEs, etc., etc. An honest assessment of how any of these tasks/barriers advance the legal profession is necessary. A wholesale reform is overdue. It would be well to remember that the structure of our legal profession is a product of the last century or so, and that towering lawyers in our nation’s history — Thomas Jefferson, say, or Abraham Lincoln — faced none of these professional hurdles. While I share Prof. Turley’s concern that the drive towards a two-year degree would gut legal history and philosophy courses and the like — I took an excellent legal history course as a 1L, a required course our first semester, and one of my favorite courses in law school — the kind of law that most attorneys will practice (family court, DWI defense, churning through low level criminal trials on the grueling PD/prosecutor docket, bog-standard insurance defense, etc.) does not need this kind of philosophical/theoretical grounding. To throw an idea out there, just to address law school, I can envision two levels of legal degree, one a two-year program with the standard core courses (contracts, crim law, civ pro, torts, etc.) followed by a strong clinical requirement — followed by an apprenticeship of one to two years (and drop the bar exam); the other a three or four year program that is more philosophically based, with broader instruction and deeper learning, for those with such inclinations. (Perhaps this is not unlike the solicitor/barrister division in England, of which I have heard but know little.)

    As a final point, can we please put to rest the tired, oft-repeated, “For first tier law schools….”‘ First tier law schools are the exception, not the norm, and to imply they are in any way normative further skews the profession towards elitism.

  13. From my experience, don’t know about law school but know the lawyers and majority of judges I have dealt with are the scammers, promising to ‘defend my case vigorously” but literally forcing me to settle a case for bupkis (and within 4 weeks the defendant doctor was nominated as Pa. sec’t of health although case in courts for 14, yes thats right, 14 years.). My lawyer, who had no time for my case was also, it turned out, the main lawyer on Phen-fen for whom he recieved (with his firm), a 54 million dollar fee. He has been reported in news articles as stating not all his claimaints had the defect for which they received payment.
    Thats just for a start, won’t bore you with the rest. (I have recently written much of the story in my blog, apainedlife.blogspot.com. if you want to read about how the system works for regular people.)

  14. Somewhat OT: a friend told me that some recent law school graduates are suing the law schools they graduated from, claiming that the schools inflated the percentage of prior graduates obtaining legal jobs, the money they made, etc., etc.

    When did law schools start publishing this sort of data? Which law schools do this? My state legal alma mater doesn’t do this.

    What is the methodology for obtaining the information and verifying its accuracy? What percentage of graduates responded? Perhaps only the “successful” ones? Lies, damned lies and statistics.

  15. If Turley thinks that the employment statistics that law school administrations disseminate are accurate and meaningful then he has his head buried in the sand. That kind of statement is either incredibly naive and uninformed or is a deliberate attempt to perpetuate the law school scam.

    Ask yourself this Turley, what percentage of the employment published by each law school is full time employment? Out of that percentage what percentage of employment requires a law degree? Are those percentages disclosed conspicuously or disclosed at all by each law school? Do the law schools base the percentage on only those reporting, and what peer reviewed and accepted statistical methodology do they use to account for those graduates who don’t respond to surveys? Why do so many law schools use bifurcated reporting methodologies where they will include underemployed graduates and graduates working in jobs not requiring a law degree, including retail sales and fast food service, to inflate their employment statistics, and then deliberately exclude them from their salary statistics by only taking responses on salary from fully employed practicing attorneys?

    This is what Campos alludes to when he makes an analogy between Mafia wives and law school professors. You’re not willing to ask hard questions about your own administration and the unethical practices it engages in to ensure full enrollment to maintain your inflated and undeserved compensation. Worse, you’re schilling for them in your blog by making statements about employment statistics in “Tier 1″ and “Tier 2″ law schools which can only otherwise be explained by wondering what drug one could be taking to make such a delusional claim.

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