On Monday the Connecticut Law Tribune published a column by Mark DuBois, former Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State of Connecticut and an adjunct professor that is teaching some of my friends legal profession this semester. After showing the column to some classmates, I cannot help but to feel a bit insulted by it. The first criticism that bothered me was the following:
Ten years ago, I was asked to go to Mystic to give a talk on ethics to a meeting of interstate tax regulators. Their speaker had taken sick, and they needed 1.5 credit hours of ethics to fill their CLE requirement. When I announced I was from UConn Law, someone asked me if I knew Rick Pomp. Turns out he is some sort of rock star to these folks. There are really smart people at UConn today, writing great books and articles. But they arenâ€™t solving local problems.
Not only is Professor Rick Pomp a rock star to people in tax law, but he is loved by the students here at UConn Law. In spite of the fact that he teaches lecture courses that are graded on a curve and has a reputation for giving difficult but fair exams, his classes still fill up. Rick Pomp has a gift for teaching and telling stories that other professors should look at as an example to aspire to. He is well accomplished outside the classroom, and is frequently quoted in the mainstream press. Professor Pomp works hard and expects his students to as well. When you talk to him, you can tell he believes that at least some of us have the capability to be exceptional. As students we like and are proud of Professor Rick Pomp.
The bigger shot that Attorney DuBois takes is:
And it would provide great training for the bright and bored kids slogging through their 2L and 3L years, surfing the net during lectures and devoting their spare time to developing new drinking games.
Now in fairness to Attorney DuBois, as a student, I must concede that the Internet is surfed by students during lectures. However it’s not a sign of boredom, it is a sign that we are searching for knowledge. Not to say that I have not checked my e-mail or seen some Angry Birds on classmates’ screens during a lecture, but for the most part students use their laptops to pull up additional case briefs and materials or to ask classmates about a point they missed during the lecture. I further conducted an informal survey of my classmates and I can confirm that we have yet to develop any new drinking games during our not-so-ample free time.
Finally Attorney DuBois talks about spending our time tackling the great problems:
Connecticut has enough challenges to keep a school like UConn Law busy for a generation. We are the wealthiest state by some measures, yet we have some of the poorest cities in the nation. The achievement gap between inner city and suburban kids is appalling. We have a court system so overwhelmed that we canâ€™t figure out how to make simple justice available to the many people who cannot afford lawyers.
I can assure him that we are spending plenty of time working on these problems. Friends of mine participated in the Robinson & Cole Summer Law Institute to teach inner-city youth about law and government. Every semester a course in street law is offered that allows students to teach high schoolers in New Britain. The UConn Law Public Interest Law Group works to raise money to allow students to serve in public interest positions over the summer through its annual auction and provide volunteer opportunities throughout the school year. These opportunities include things like volunteer income tax assistance, a clinic to help people that have fallen behind on their electricity bills, and workshops to help homeowners in danger of foreclosure. This is to say nothing of a myriad of for-credit clinics that provide services to the community in areas such as criminal law, tax, and intellectual property. Our campus houses the Connecticut Urban Legal Initiative that provides legal assistance to local non-profits. At the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology law students participate in the Innovation Accelerator program with business school students to help innovators and entrepreneurs grow their businesses and create private sector jobs. The demand to participate in these programs is high and admission is competitive.
I think the problem that Attorney Dubois misses in his analysis is that over the past few years the drop in ranking has been caused by the lack of post-graduation employment and that is something that we should be concerned about. We cannot solve the big problems if we cannot first feed ourselves and pay our rent. I have classmates who want to work in legal aid organizations after they graduate but the legal aid organizations are not hiring. Other classmates want to work for the government and the government is not hiring. We are ready and willing to serve and more than excited to solve the big problems facing our state if only the state or philanthropists would decide that tackling these problems is a big enough priority to spend money on them. After taking on six-figure debt, volunteering after graduation is not a viable option for most students.
Absent this investment UConn Law must and does play on a national stage. Students are taking jobs in places like Boston and New York City where there is actually some demand for entry-level attorneys When they apply for these jobs they are competing with students from other big name schools. When the hiring committees scrutinize our resumes we are riding on portable brand equity created by superstar professors, the US News and World Report Ranking, and the basketball team. For example, in Washington D.C. Professor McCoy has helped Elizabeth Warren build the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and they have hired UConn Law graduates. The semester in D.C. program is helping raise our profile in Washington which will hopefully lead to more hiring of our graduates.
If Attorney DuBois believes that UConn Law graduates should stay in Connecticut and work on local problems then he should work with alumni to build opportunity here. Find a CEO that will commit to funding a salary for a recent graduate at Greater Hartford Legal Aid. Convince local firms that hiring students without experience is a better long run investment than simply poaching laterals. Get the state legislature to appropriate more money for legal positions on the state payroll and restore funding to the judicial branch. Maybe even convince local firms to get creative: instead of hiring one law student at $140,000 for an 80 hour week hire two students at $70,000 for 40 hour weeks. Otherwise students will continue to leave Connecticut and the state will lose out on their talent and newly minted abilities.