Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Advice to the University of Wyoming on elimniating degree fields and programs in this time of budgetary woe. Eliminate the Law School


Are you serious?

Do you seriously propose to eliminate the law school, your alma mater?  Are you insane?

Why yes.  I do, and no I'm not.  

Indeed, shortly after I started thinking this recently, I heard another lawyer, also a UW graduate, with nearly 40 years in suggest the same thing, after the Dean was making his annual tour.  I.e, not only is the question now "why should we give you money", so much as it is "why do you even exist?"

Let's look a the situation objectively.

UW this past week announced that it was considering eliminating sixteen degrees.  According to UW the fields being considered are as follows:
Bachelor’s degrees recommended for elimination are: American studies, Russian, energy systems engineering, art education, modern language education and technical education.
Master’s degrees recommended for elimination are: French, German, neurosciences, philosophy, food science and human nutrition, sociology, environmental engineering, and adult and postsecondary education.
Ph.D. programs that would be eliminated are: adult and post-secondary education, and statistics.
Some additional cost savings measures are as follows:
The proposal calls for the American Studies Program to be consolidated into a Division of Interdisciplinary Studies, along with the Gender and Women’s Studies Program and perhaps others; the Department of Statistics to merge with the Department of Mathematics; and the departments of Philosophy and Religious Studies to consolidate with similar units. The goal is to achieve efficiencies through shared business and administrative services.
The Science and Mathematics Teaching Center, meanwhile, would be shuttered and reconfigured with a broader role in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education -- becoming a P-16 STEM education center dovetailing with UW’s science, engineering and education initiatives.
So, why not eliminate a seventeenth unneeded obsolete post graduate college, the College of Law?  It's time for it to go, really, as its now obsolete for our state's land grant university, which isn't true of at least some of the fields mentioned above, in my view.

Why would this be true?  Well, with the firm entrenchment of the testing debacle of the Uniform Bar Exam the University of Wyoming College of Law no longer necessary and a waste of money.  What's more, with the current state of the law, just having it is pretty pointless.  Axe the sucker.

Okay, I'm not fully serious, but I am serious that it should, at this point, probably be considered. We can replace it with a different system like we do for doctors or dentists, if we find that we're lacking lawyers around here (unlikely) and we could create a really useful school, like a Veterinary college.  Heck, we could convert the law school into a veterinary college.

Okay, why would I propose such a horrendous fate for my dear old alma mater, the University of Wyoming's cherished College of Law, which educated me in a field that I've worked on for lo' near these three decades, from the flower of my youth to my near decreptude.

Well, because we no longer need it and it serves no useful purpose.  Indeed, at this point its served no useful purposes for several years, since the Un-informed Bar Exam came in, and seeing as there's seemingly no going back, and it doesn't educate for a Wyoming application, it may actually be doing harm by its existence.  

Allow me to explain. 

The University obtained a law school back in the day when each state truly had its own set of laws and there weren't uniform laws in anything.  This is important, as we'll expand on in a moment, but the creation of the law school served, I suspect, another purpose as well.  When it was founded in 1920, the state was really still trying to find a pair of big boy pants.  That is, we were still sort of struggling with the concept that we were a frontier state. A law school sort of showed we'd arrived, maybe.

Maybe that wasn't part of it at all, but rather was because we actually had arrived. We could now educate our own lawyers who served in our own courts, for our own state.

And that's exactly what the UW College of Law did for many years.  Most lawyers you ran into in Wyoming, including the truly famous ones like Gerry Spence, or Dave Freudenthal, etc. ,were graduates of UW's program.  And many of those individuals likely never would have become lawyers but for the UW College of Law.  I don't know how common it is, but I myself applied only to the UW College of Law, not to any other.

But even by the time I went to UW this purpose was waning.  By my graduating class a fair number of students came from elsewhere to attend it, and went elsewhere, typically Colorado (but not always) upon graduating.  So by this period in time, a person could begin to wonder if the College of Law was serving some purpose other than the state's. . . maybe its own really.

Then came the UBE. 

Since the UBE the state has been inundated with out of state lawyers.  I have cases, for example, in which I'm the only resident Wyoming lawyer in them.  This supposedly wasn't going to happen, but not only is it happening, I suspect it will become more and more the trend over the years and at some point in the next decade the areas of the law outside of local civil, practice for public entities, and divorce will pretty much be the domain of out of state lawyers.

Which brings up one of the reasons that the UW College of Law existed.  Since our law is unique, it gave you an advantage to go there in terms of taking our state bar exam, and it gave you an advantage in actually practicing law here.

Now, neither of those things is true.

It isn't that our law has become uniform, far from it. And it isn't that the UBE is letting out of state lawyers know what our law is, in my experience they continue to act as if the law from their state applies in ours. Rather, our bar exam no longer features Wyoming law and the law school, from what I hear, isn't focusing on it.

Indeed, at least based upon what I told, after I graduated an era came in which the law school, whose professors are by and large not Wyoming lawyers either, at least in a true sense, told students that they weren't focusing on Wyoming law.  Indeed, that would not have served their self conceived notion of being a competing national school.  Princeton's law school doesn't focus on the law of New Jersey, for example, I'm quite sure.  So that decision made short sighted sense.

And, in fact, when a later UW President attempted to make the College of Law's special focus on energy law, something that made sense during the boom but for which we perhaps might be grateful for its failure post bust, there was a College of Law revolt against it. This seemed to include the students who argued that such a transition would deprive them of the ability to focus on local law, which might be true if the school was focusing on that itself.  I get the point, but perhaps it wasn't evident to the students that a school that eschews a regional law focus, let alone a state focus, becomes just one more national school.

And we don't need it.

There are a lot of law schools around.  So many that many are failing.  And if you get no advantage other than cost savings, what other point is there to having it.

UW doesn't have a medical school, dental school, or veterinary school.  Now, it'd be true that there's a lot more lawyers than dentists, doctors, or veterinarians, but that's part of the point.  Now we not only have the in state practitioners but a lot of out of state ones practicing here as well.  So do we really need a school which will encourage people to enter such a flooded area?

Wouldn't it make more sense, at this point, to approach the field of law like we do the field of medicine and simply make arrangements with out of state law schools, which are hurting for applicants, so that our residents can go to them at an instate tuition rate.  It's worked for other professional fields, it'd work for law, particularly when attending UW's College of Law affords no real advantage anymore.  Indeed, part of the mission of the law school, in its view, is to draw in students from elsewhere most of whom go elsewhere.

Perhaps, therefore, it's time to take a page out of Alaska's book. Alaska's population is about the same as ours and it has no law school.  Rather, it has made arrangements with at least one other school to act as that school for Alaska's students who wish to study law.  Sadly, UW sort of saw itself in that role, I'd note, but didn't become that school, for whatever reason.

Now, are there counter arguments for this?  Of course there are. For one thing, the school's been around for a long time so while its hurting, it is established.  And going there does mean that the students are likely in contact with local practitioneres, which might give them an advantage in getting a job. And it means that those who want to study law here might not have to leave their home states to do that.

Balanced against that, graduates are entering a crowded field in which lawyers from surrounding states are now part of their competition, so they might not end up here anyway, or might not end up in the field they hoped (although that's always been common).  Maybe we're even at the point where it might not really be a good idea to give students false hopes by having an entire college dedicated to a field of study that's rapidly declining in terms of employbility due to market saturation and technological change.

Of course, none of this would be as fully true of Wyoming, which has unique law, had a unique bar exam, which would also serve to protect the interest of the state's citizens.

Seems like we had that at one time. . . . 

Well, it's often said that "you can't go home again". Well, you can.  You just have to want to.

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