Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Thoughts on Plagiarism and Legal Scholarship

David Frum has some provocative thoughts on the current state of legal scholarship, prompted by the recent Harvard plagiarism scandals:
I've often wondered whether American legal education is not a vast waste of time and money. Yes certainly law is a great intellectual discipline and there are genuine scholars of law out there -- but many, many fewer than are needed to staff the faculties of the top law schools. I often wonder whether the supposedly lower-tier schools -- with their emphasis on practical training and direct connection to the workplace -- don't do a better job of educating young lawyers than the Harvards, Yales, and Stanfords. I really wonder what people like Charles Ogletree and Alan Dershowitz are doing at a university at all.

They devote scandalously little time to the education of the students who pay to associate with them. But neither are they off in the library producing the next edition of Wigmore on Evidence. It would make a lot more sense for Ogletree to be a partner in a criminal-defense firm, for Dershowitz to host his own television show, and for schools like Harvard to use them as occasional guest lecturers.

This outcome would not entirely protect such individuals from the temptations of plagiarism. But by denying them the nimbus of intellectual authority earned by the scholarship of others, it might heighten their awareness that the rules that apply to all apply also to them.
One quibble is the line about "scandalously little time" devoted to the "education of students." From all I heard from classmates, Dershowitz actually did spend a good deal of time teaching class and seemed to be very responsive to student questions/concerns. (I simply don't know what Ogletree's reputation is in this regard, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was similar.) That said, the conventional wisdom among those in the know is that Dershowitz is simply "not a scholar," and the latest scandal reveals that Ogletree isn't either.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As to Dershowitz (and the same might apply to Glenn Reynolds), he surely qualifies as a "public intellectual." Every university can afford to support a few of those.

As to legal education at Harvard or Yale, it obviously serves mostly as a screening process. But disinterested screening is not worthless. An alternative system could be constructed under which law firms administered IQ tests (scores would correlate highly with LSAT scores), and gave three year unpaid internships to the high scorers. But the firms would need to design mechanisms to ensure that the interns actually were challenged and tested, and to prevent (i) the interns from goofing off and (ii) the individual lawyers in the firm from exploiting the interns as glorified paralegals.

Since I didn't go to a lower-ranking school, I can't comment on what their value might be.


11:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking as a former Dershowitz student, I can say that he is among the professors MOST responsive to student concerns. And I'm not at all inclined to agree with his politics ... or his laughable VRWC excuse.

12:47 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, law schools in general do seem to be much more patient with professors who are excellent teachers and thinkers, but don't produce a lot of research. In a way, it's admirable, since research should not be the only end of a university. However, it does seem to lead to a bit of cutting corners when it comes time to produce some scholarly work.

3:05 PM  

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