by Jeff Sovern
Here comes a self-serving post. In my view, legal education raises significant consumer issues for its chief consumers, students (you could argue that the clients that retain the services of law school graduates are also consumers of legal education, but for purposes of this post, their interests are the same and so the distinction is irrelevant). The focus of this blog is usually on issues pertaining to a larger group of consumers than law students, but because many readers of this blog are law professors or lawyers (i.e., former law students), the readers of the blog may be interested in consumer issues involving law students. In addition, higher education in general may face some of the same consumer issues and so the issues may be of broader concern. Many of these consumer issues are familiar to law professors and lawyers may be aware of some of them as well; they are frequently discussed on Brian Leiter’s Law School Reports blog and by Brian Z. Tamanaha on the Balkinization blog, among other places.
In any event, in an effort to dramatize these issues and make them more vivid, I put on my playwright hat (I am an extremely minor playwright and have written a few plays, none of which has received a production, though three have been given staged readings), and wrote a fifteen-minute play about consumer protection for law students. The play has serious flaws, I’m sorry to say, but I think it brings the issues into a clearer focus. It’s a work in progress, so I’d be interested in comments about the content, and for that matter, the idea of using this format as a way to comment on legal matters.
Curious about what the consumer issues that I keep referring to are? You can get a hint from the abstract:
Sellers in a competitive market shift resources from attributes buyers don't care about to attributes buyers do care about. In markets in which buyers rely on imperfect signals for quality, sellers move resources away from improving the quality of their product to enhancing the illusion of quality. For example, before freshness dating, when consumers tested the freshness of bread by squeezing it, bakers reportedly added chemicals to bread to preserve its softness longer, thereby creating the illusion of freshness. Similarly, law school rankings encourage schools to shift resources away from improving the quality of the education they provide in favor of investing in improving their standings in the rankings. Consequently, under the guise of serving the market, rankings which are based on the wrong criteria are likely to subvert the market because they both fail to measure accurately the quality of a school's education and reduce the quality of legal education.
This piece dramatizes some of the ideas discussed in the preceding paragraph. It takes the form of a fifteen-minute play with three characters: a law school dean, a junior law professor, and a law student. The play illustrates how the incentives created by a ranking system could affect law schools and their administrators, faculty, and students. The play format is intended to make the ideas expressed more vivid.
If you want to know more about the consumer issues, you can read the play (which, I emphasize, is short) at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1097602. And if you get the impression that I want people to read it and comment, you’re right. I’m curious to learn whether writing this was useful or a waste of time.