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Friday, April 06, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 51 (Megan Carpenter)

Law Schools Are Like Pittsburgh

Mike Madison’s work outside legal education informs this space, as well.  Back in 2009, Mike produced a series of writings on Pittsburgh’s renaissance, which were published on Pittsblog, recast in a book I edited on the role of law in entrepreneurship and innovation, and even summarized in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  His work on Pittsburgh talks about the city’s decline and its renaissance, and evaluates, in part, the benefits and shortcomings of its revitalization.  It is a story that is very Pittsburgh—but it is also a story that is much larger.  It is about the decline of primary and secondary sectors as drivers of our economy and the rise of the knowledge economy, and, particularly relevant for our purposes, about innovation more generally.

Like the steel industry, the dominance and relative success of the traditional model of legal education stifled innovation that might otherwise have occurred.  Higher education has never been quick to innovate; universities are right up there with cultural institutions like the church and the military in that regard.  In law schools, we are ahead of the curve in witnessing the decline of old higher education models.  We know that the way we have always done things is not working, both economically and in substance.  A changing legal services industry demands an evolution in education and training.  And for many law schools, the old way of doing things frankly does not present a sustainable business model.

But here is where I would like to draw on one of Mike’s observations about revitalizing a city:  Law schools must be careful not to stand still and wait it out.  The current crisis in legal education is not simply a procedural crisis, but a substantive one.  Mike attributed part of the initial perception of success of Pittsburgh’s revitalization to the fact that other peer cities—Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit—were not doing as well.  As peers take backward steps, others will stand out.  But in that scenario, no one has taken a step forward.  In legal education we must not stay put and hope that the market right-sizes itself; that applications rise while some law schools close, and things return to normal.  Here are a few recommendations that draw on aspects of our discussion to date:

  1. Collaboration is critical (even in unexpected places)

 Collaboration should happen between schools and in the context of a broader university environment, as I and others have already advocated.  It is healthy for law schools to be part of a larger university—it facilitates interdisciplinary connections and enables law in context.  But collaboration with external groups, as well, including the bar and the courts, can lead to great innovation.  At UNH Law, the Daniel Webster Scholar Program is an alternative bar licensing program that is a collaboration between the New Hampshire Supreme Court, the state bar, and the law school.  The program engages students in practice over the course of a two-year period while they are in law school, and those students are sworn into the bar the day before graduation (and can start practicing the day after).  Studies have shown that the program graduates students who outperform colleagues licensed to practice law for up to two years.  Webster Scholars are sought after in the marketplace, precisely because of the skills they develop in law school.  The program is first of its kind, but should not be the last of its kind.

  1. Break down barriers

Let’s think together about how to break down some of our structural barriers.  As I discussed in my first post, law schools (with influence from our regulators, and the bar) have kept legal education precious and inaccessible to many, including people who do not want to become lawyers but who need legal education as part of other careers and/or daily life.  It is healthy that many of us in this symposium, including Michael Waterstone and Robert Ahdieh, have been talking about education for non-lawyers.  The world will be operating as subjects and objects of legal principles (and, increasingly, doing law-related work) whether we are a part of it or not, so let’s lead the charge.  It’s the right thing to do in both principle and form.  At UNH Law we have been working to train judges and professionals around the world on intellectual property issues for over 20 years, and our faculty has had a hand in assisting emerging economies develop intellectual property legal frameworks.  We are currently developing programs to train professionals in legal issues at the intersection of IP and health care in the bioinnovation industry.  But we can do more to work with other law schools—and universities—as partners in ways that capitalize on our individual strengths for collective benefit.  Companies like iLaw are treading into waters beyond the traditional boundaries of individual law schools in ways that can help overcome these barriers.  But I would challenge us, too, as leaders of our own institutions, to think about ways to unbundle what we offer and work together in ways that provide the best education for students beyond the silos of individual schools.  For any schools interested in doing this with us, I’m happy to have that conversation.

  1. Be bold

 Between the statements “there is no excuse not to innovate,” and “there is an excuse to innovate!”, we should choose the latter (and not just because the former has a double negative).  It may seem manifestly perverse, but the economic pressures of the law school business model can be leveraged to the benefit of innovation.  Like Pittsburgh, the failure of an old model gives us an opportunity to define success differently. 

Megan Carpenter (New Hampshire)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 6, 2018 at 03:14 PM | Permalink

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