Do law school critics like Brian Tamanaha have the courage of their convictions?

Brian Tamanaha is now taking on the law school left in the latest stage of his general attack on the law school world. Most likely Tamanaha understands that the left is likely to be the strongest source of support for tenure standards that are now under direct attack by not only Tamanaha but his friends at Cato and among some in the ABA, the major accrediting agency for law schools.

The core of Tamanaha’s argument is that those of us on the left who teach in law schools should be front and center in discussing ways to reform legal education. Who could disagree? Yet what evidence is there that the left is not involved in these efforts? I not only blog on this subject – to the point of tedium in the eyes of Tamanaha – but actively participate in my role as a faculty member in ways to reform legal education in what I assure Tamanaha are exhaustive faculty discussions.

In fact, our law school invited Tamanaha to discuss his ideas for reform at Santa Clara University this spring. But Tamanaha abruptly withdrew from the long planned event. I was asked by Tamanaha not to discuss the contents of his email explaining his withdrawal publicly, however, it occurred just after my critical assessment of his book on law school reform was posted on line at SSRN.

Now in his latest jeremiad, Tamanaha claims I “never talk” about the problem of debt that plagues law students. This is so absurd it beggars belief. Not only do I blog about the problem of debt here but I have debated the problematic situation facing law students exhaustively on other blogs like Prawfsblawg and Faculty Lounge. I was credited by Paul Caron at TaxProf with sparking a major debate about law school reform because of those blog posts. Friends of Tamanaha in this debate panicked that their views were being disputed at all and attempted to muster an attack across the web, including specious personal attacks from Campos and others.

There was even an effort to have me dismissed from my teaching position. Of course, most students at SCU are smarter than these types and easily grasp the value of learning something about securities regulation and corporations, so that effort didn’t go very far.

Tamanaha now says he was not talking about my blogs when he said I never “talked” about debt, but about the fact that I never “wrote” about the debt problem in my review essay about his book, the very same one that was posted on SSRN just prior to his cancellation of an event that was organized to talk about these very same issues!

Well, what did I write?

On page one of the paper I wrote:

“One readily available test of the lack of rationality of the ‘scam’ idea is to take notice of its supporters’ apparent disinterest in concrete proposals for debt relief and other forms of assistance available to law school graduates caught in the economic downturn.”

In fact, I can’t find any reference to Tamanaha himself supporting debt relief programs for the current victims of the economic collapse. Instead, he dismisses the programs that do exist, like IBR. Ditto for his partner in crime, the bad cop of law school reform in the words of their hosts at the Cato Institute, Paul Campos. Nowhere can I find any suggestion that Tamanaha or Campos are willing to surrender a substantial part of their incomes to help with debt relief.

Now Tamanaha says he missed my proposal for debt relief because he stopped reading my “tedious” blog. But he repeats the claim that no such “talk” of debt relief appeared in the SSRN paper. In fact, not only did a reference appear on page one to the general idea of debt relief but on page 20 of the review I wrote specifically about the debt relief program Tamanaha “missed” on my blog:

“My proposal for a combined debt relief and post-law school training program is aimed at dealing with both the job situation as well as that need. See ‘Lawyers for America: A modest proposal,’ available at http://stephen-diamond.com/beyond-the-scam-debate-about-law-schools-lawyers-foramerica-a-modest-proposal/.”

Now perhaps Tamanaha will claim that these comments only appear in the footnotes of the paper. True enough. But what does he tell law students in his classes who do not pay attention to the footnotes in cases?

In any case, isn’t it richly ironic that Tamanaha is publishing his essay in a journal housed at that populist bastion, Stanford Law School? Tamanaha argues that law school is too expensive yet at places like Stanford law school is a huge bargain – tuition pays for only a fraction (as little as a third) of the total cost of a JD. Far from being ripped off, students at these schools are getting a tremendous bargain.

There is, in other words, a disingenuousness at work in the work of Tamanaha. A macroeconomic crisis that has made hundreds of millions miserable is being used, exploited really, by him to push an irrelevant agenda centered on the destruction of a valuable public institution. Tamanaha insists now that he is in fact some kind of liberal. Indeed, some kind of liberal. The kind that finds a welcome place at the Cato Institute and is touted on the pages of the Wall Street Journal.