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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Lawyers (and Clients?) Are Part of the Legal Education Fix Too

A comment on my last post led me to a recent post on Simple Justice, the tartly worded blog of Scott Greenfield, a criminal defense attorney. His post is inspired in part by Brian Tamanaha's forthcoming book and Orin's post on it the other day. Stripped of its inessentials, I think it makes an excellent point:

For a bit, I've been talking to a lawprof who shall remain nameless for now . . . about the broad array of problems we're facing. We agree on much. We disagree on much as well.

One of the fundamental disagreements is that he's of the view that the problems with legal education are internal, and therefore must be cured by the legal academy . . . . He flatters my interest, but assures me that they need to clean up their own act.

The failures of law school (and I use the plural deliberately) do not exist in a vacuum. They are part of the failures that pervade the profession as a whole, from our inability to fulfill our obligation to society to our inability to produce new lawyers who care more about law than themselves. . . .

This goes way beyond law school. This can't be cured by lawprofs alone, or changes in legal education. Tweak one side of the equation and it impacts on the others, with unintended consequences. . . . But this is our profession. We are stakeholders in the future of lawyers, and it is not only outrageous, but unacceptable, that this discussion occur without our knowledge or involvement.  You need to know this is happening. They need to know you care and have something to say about it.  And if you turn your back and leave it to the lawprofs to fix, you deserve whatever they come up with. . . .   

Now is the time to get involved in the discussion, whether the lawprofs want us to or not. I realize this isn't fun and, for many, rather boring and disconnected from the daily grind. But this is our future. Don't leave it to someone else to fix.

I apologize for removing all the stuff about how law professors are (to paraphrase) self-interested bastards.

I deleted it not to preserve anyone's tender sensibilities, but because I think Greenfield makes a good point that is worth emphasizing and that everyone can agree with, regardless of whether they share his other views. Thinking about reforming legal education--whether in terms of disclosures, costs, etc., or in terms of what and how we teach--involves multiple constituencies and should be treated that way. Greenfield is right that this can be boring and un-fun; that, I think, is one reason that even professors, for whom such matters aren't "disconnected from the daily grind," end up tinkering around the edges rather than devoting the time it would take as a faculty to thinking through these issues from start to finish. But it's a necessary enterprise--again, in my view, necessary regardless of the state of the economy at any given moment--and one in which a variety of constituencies, including current students, recent graduates, and more seasoned practicing lawyers, ought to be involved from the outset. And law schools should make that happen, rather than hashing it all out in committee meetings with only themselves present and then announcing what they've done.

Let me link this point to my last post or two. As I said in my last post, I am increasingly struck by how rarely the word "client" comes up in some of even the best recent discussions of law school reform. Clients are a constituency too. We hear a lot of talk in the legal academy about the views of large firms and, especially, their institutional clients on legal education and the legal economy. Much of this is secondhand, though. I'm not sure how many faculties have invited in-house counsels or large firm partners in to talk to them as a group.

And, of course, most schools don't graduate large numbers of students into those environments. Of course law schools hear from their own alumni, and some clients, in a variety of ways, but generally not in a concerted fashion, and certainly not in a concerted fashion that extends beyond the administration to the faculty itself. My point is not to argue, as some blogs sometimes do, that law schools don't hear from or give a damn about their graduates or about clients, but to suggest that we ought to be gathering that information in a more concerted fashion, and that it should be a faculty matter, not just one for the deans. I'm grateful that there are people out there, like Bill Henderson or my own school's Andy Morris, doing good work looking at the legal business as a whole. But, as I wrote earlier, most schools are dealing with a particular region and a particular pattern of practice. It's not enough to rely on general information about what's going on in the profession; we should be making a strong effort to look at the market served by each particular law school.

Let me add a brief, if insufficient, personal note by way of trying to walk the walk. At my own school, I have urged us to put in practice some of the things I've talked about here. In particular, I've suggested that we should institutionalize a practice of setting up focus groups, standing committees or consultation groups, or whatever the hell you want to call them, made up of faculty members and administrators, current students, recent graduates, and other practicing attorneys in our area. They should meet on a semi-regular basis to share views on what is going on in the profession and what the school is doing well or poorly, to communicate what the school is actually doing and to get some feedback prior to instituting reforms rather than announcing them after the fact, and to continue getting feedback so we can continue revisiting those reforms. In doing so, we should seek a representative sample; we shouldn't cherry-pick only the happiest or most successful alumni, or those at the biggest firms, or the happiest and best-performing students or recent graduates. Again, I don't think it's true as a blanket statement that faculty don't hear from or care about any of these individuals. But we certainly could do more to collect this information on a more institutionalized basis, so that this information is actually shared among the whole faculty and made a part of reform efforts rather than being collected by or limited to administrators or just a few faculty members. Of course there's a different between urging such things and making them happen. Like anything else involving multiple actors, it won't happen overnight. Certainly, however, I have encountered no angry opposition or anything of the sort. I certainly welcome comments sharing information about whether and how other schools have done things like this.     

Posted by Paul Horwitz on May 8, 2012 at 10:02 AM in Paul Horwitz | Permalink

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Comments

Thank you for this post. Maybe there's hope?

Posted by: shg | May 8, 2012 10:24:40 AM

My pleasure. As for hope, I guess it's necessary to add, lest someone beat me to it, that solving these problems won't solve other problems, like those involving tuition, debt, transparency, and so on. But, as I wrote, I think making legal education what(ever) it ought to be is a continuing duty in any event. My own general view is that there are some schools out there doing interesting and valuable things along these lines, and plenty of faculty members who think more is needed. There's also a lot of inertia. The takeaway, for me, is that there is room for more than cynicism and fatalism, but that there is also more room for collective faculty involvement at each institution and more concerted outreach.

Posted by: Paul Horwitz | May 8, 2012 10:30:37 AM

I'm just as interested in tuition and debt issues, which have huge ramifications for professional conduct. Transparency is a core problem, as practicing lawyers are left to deal with a profession of people who feel tricked into being here, are disinclined to concern themselves with their responsibilties toward clients as they feel they are the victims.

Everything is in the mix. Everything. It's all part of the legal ecosystem, and there is no fix without everything on the table.

Posted by: shg | May 8, 2012 10:38:49 AM

I agree with Greenfield. Lawyers and law firms need to be heard to further law school reform. I have posted an article on this subject on the Legal Skills Prof Blog: What Law Firms and Attorneys can do to Help Further Legal Education Reform at http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2012/04/what-law-firms-and-attorneys-can-do-to-help-further-legal-education-reform.html

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | May 8, 2012 7:38:30 PM

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