Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Chase Dean Misunderstands Professionalism

Chase Law School (part of NKU) has made some national news this week, and not in a way that will make its administration happy.

Last week, Chase scheduled a mandatory lecture on "professionalism" for its first-year students. Such events are relatively commonplace. They're boring. They have little to do with what first year students are studying at the time, and first-year students aren't really able to put a lecture on professionalism into context, as most haven't so much as set foot in a law firm yet. But nonetheless, law schools love to schedule these kinds of events.

For some reason, Chase's administration thought the perfect time for the relatively useless exercise was Thursday night--right in the middle of the first round of the NCAA tournament. And during Kentucky's first round game. The results were predictable. Students showed up, and (as is common at law schools these days) had their laptops open to "take notes." Of course, CBS was live-streaming the tournament, so students with laptops turned the game on (without sound). Others used their phones to check scores or text friends.

So who cares? The panel of speakers, seated at the front of the room, couldn't have seen what was on the laptops. Apparently, one of Chase's deans was in the back of the room. He saw the laptops, and was not pleased. So he sent a nastygram strongly-worded email to the entire 1L class, telling them how "rude" and "unprofessional" they were. And now, the email has made its way to Above the Law, a blog with a national following devoted largely to law school news.

As a UC Law alum, I'm always happy to make fun of Chase. My glee at pointing out that the law school began at the Cincinnati YMCA knows no bounds. ("Where'd you get your law license--the Y? Oh, yeah, never mind....) Here, any ridicule needs to be reserved for Chase's administration, not its students. They scheduled a lecture to be attended primarily by twenty-somethings fresh out of college in the middle of the first round of March Madness and expected that attendees' attention wouldn't be diverted? Seriously?

Law school administrators often fall into the pattern we see here: treat law students as if they were still in high school, with little control over their own schedules or (frankly) lives, and then chide them for not being "professional." They forget that professionals have at least some control over their own calendars. Walk into the courthouse on Opening Day. You won't see anyone. Why? Because no one wants to schedule anything then. If a lawyer is a basketball fan, do you think he scheduled client meetings or court appearances last Thursday or Friday? Do you really expect a bunch of kids from Kentucky to abstain from March Madness?

Lawyers have lives outside of their practices. Law students are usually told during law school orientation to try to maintain some sort of life outside of their studies. Then, for the next three years, administrators and professors pretend as if law school is life. Such mixed signals will inevitably yield unhappy results.

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