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What Is The Effect of Having So Many Adjuncts Teaching Bankruptcy Law Courses?

posted by david lander

Two surveys show that a high percentage of bankruptcy courses is taught by adjuncts rather than full time faculty. A 1997 survey by an ABA Committee looking soly at bankruptcy courses and completed by bankruptcy teachers showed that over half the 100 schools that replied made major use of lawyers or judges in teaching their bankruptcy courses, 20% made occasional use and 30 % made little or no use. In a 2007 survey which covered a dozen or so law school subject areas and completed by law school associate deans one third of the 75 reporting schools indicated that adjuncts taught one or more of the bankruptcy courses in the curriculum. (See Lander, Are Adjuncts a Benefit or a Detriment? 33 U. Dayton L. Rev. 285 (2008). The key question is whether this high use of adjuncts helps or hinders the teaching of bankruptcy law and whether it helps or hinders bankruptcy scholarship.

Here are some of the potential benefits to law students and to the law school of the choice to use adjuncts, rather than having all bankruptcy courses taught by full-time faculty. 

More course offerings;

Adjuncts are easy on the school’s budget;

Adjuncts often provide students with supplemental perspectives and insights into legal reasoning,    critical  thinking and the crafting of legal arguments;   

Their special contribution is that they are able to think  “transactionally,” which combines the theory and the practice in a strategic way and hopefully  their teaching will reflect that combination in a thoughtful and effective way and they will add to  the optimal mix of learning experiences.  Although the use of “war stories” can be overdone,  adjuncts’ practical expertise can infuse and enrich theory in a way that enhances learning.  If all  of this works, then an effective adjunct has the potential to enrich the students in a way that  complements and supplements the teaching of the  full-time faculty members;

Adjuncts are often extraordinarily enthusiastic about their teaching;

The perception (and perhaps reality) that they provide networking opportunities for employment during  law school and after graduation.

On the other hand, the use of adjuncts poses a series of potential serious problems to the students’ education and to the law school itself.

Adjuncts are generally less available than full-time faculty members to students for questions about the course.  This lack of access can have serious negative consequences, particularly in courses where a paper is required, or if students wish to write on bankruptcy topics and the only bankruptcy teacher is an adjunct.

Adjuncts regularly have “emergencies” which interfere with class and with preparation for class. 

Just as adjuncts may be better teachers than full-time faculty,  they may also be worse teachers.  They are often unaware of the benefits of various alternative teaching methods and either lecture or fall back on a harassing use of the Socratic method.

If adjuncts teach most or all of the courses in bankruptcy and they are not included in faculty meetings and consultations regarding curricular decisions then the evaluation, discussion and decision making will be weaker than if the adjuncts who teach bankruptcy had been involved. 

Adjuncts often underestimate the importance of grading and violate school grading and median scoring policies.

One very important concern is the effect of the dependence on adjuncts on bankruptcy scholarship and publications. Although many adjuncts do write articles, nearly all of the true legal scholarship is done by full-time faculty and very little is done by adjuncts  This lack of scholarship has many negative implications. Professor Larry F Garvin looked at the effect of  increasing use of adjuncts in the closely related field of commercial law and identified and analyzed a number of those negative effect of using more adjuncts to teach commercial law courses.  Research and publications will suffer in any area where full time faculty is replaced by adjuncts. Areas which make major use of adjuncts such as trial practice, bankruptcy, and sports and entertainment law have probably reached a tipping point where the amount and quality of research is significantly effected by the mix of adjuncts and full-time faculty working in these fields.

One key factor is the degree to which the use of adjuncts to teach bankruptcy courses is a replacement for full time teachers as opposed to a broadening of course offerings.  This is hard to measure but it is crucial.  Let’s use the University of Illinois Law School as an example.  They currently have three full time faculty members who have a significant amount of expertise in and commitment to scholarship and teaching in the bankruptcy area. Suppose they regularly offer three bankruptcy courses per year; now suppose there is a lawyer in Champaign who is an expert on a specific bankruptcy area in which the school has never offered a course. They hire the adjunct to teach an additional course or seminar in the bankruptcy area.  That is definitely additive.  On the other hand consider a law school with one full time faculty member with expertise or commitment to scholarship and teaching in the bankruptcy area; suppose she leaves the faculty and the school decides to have each of the two bankruptcy courses taught by adjuncts and does not hire a full time faculty member with a commitment to scholarship and teaching in the bankruptcy area.  That is clearly dilutive.  Most situations are somewhere in the middle and harder to characterize, but that is the litmus test. 

One thing is clear: Bankruptcy is one of the subject areas that makes the heaviest use of adjuncts and therefore, it is important to understand the benefits and detriments of that use.


"or fall back on a harassing use of the Socratic method."

In my experience, that particular flaw is the exclusive domain of the full-time law professors. Over use of "war stories" would be more of a problem with adjuncts.

IMHO, you can't get better teachers of bankruptcy than bankruptcy judges - current or former. Bankrutpcy attorneys and clerks-in-charge are more hit-or-miss.

Replace the words "need to publish" with any reference to adjuncts' emergencies or outside work, and most of the disadvantages to using adjunct professors will apply equally to full professors.

And it's hard to take the concerns about loss of scholarship and publications seriously--bankruptcy isn't a science where publications are necessary to promote advances in medicine or other technology that can improve our lives. Face it: most legal scholarship (like academic scholarship in general) is little more than desperate professors trying to pad their resume. With about 12 different journals coming out of most law schools, we have too much scholarship, if anything.

As for myself, I learn a ton from reading the published and unpublished ops from the cir. A friend of mine once asked me why I liked to read unpublished ops. I told her that it was because they often reason thru the case. I figure, if that’s they way they do it, why can't I? It kind of gets me into a frame of mind of how to think about a particular subject. Plus all the really funny Ops are unpublished. eg. Denis Maringo V. Erica McGuirk, "The Ghost of Erica J. McGuirk, who is the reincarnated Jezebel Princess of Evil" 4:07-CV-403 Southern District of Texas. Immigration Case. That whole title was in the Unpublished cite, which is why it caught my eye when I was scrolling thru the Published and Unpublished Ops for that day. Sorry, for not being more on point with this post.

AMC are you a current or former BK Judge? I know we have this whole anonymity thing going, but man, I would totally believe it if you were or are.

Whoa! Put the ki-bosh on that potential rumor - I am not, and have never been, a bankruptcy judge.

No rumor from meeesss. Art. III? Joking! Or as my tio jorge says “I yust yo-king mijo”. My bad my bad.... ki-bosh completed.

Having adjuncts teach courses like bankruptcy is very educational for students.
It teaches them that law school has nothing to do with practice, except perhaps for the kind of ConLaw practice that very very few people do. It teaches them that law school is a kind of social finishing school, and that law school courses are like French and piano. It teaches them to ignore the academic literature, and only bother with the practitioner's literature.
Very educational, indeed.

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