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Monday, April 09, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 60 (Dan Rodriguez)

Predicting Reform

The bulk of these wonderfully interesting and provocative symposium posts have been normative or descriptive.  This makes eminent sense.  Contributors have been invited to imagine change, in one or another facet of our educational enterprise; and some have pointed to real change through their depictions of creative initiatives in their own law schools.  What I want to do is make a suggestive comment that is more by way of a prediction.  Let me take a somewhat arbitrary timetable, say, twenty years from now.

First, change will emerge from a hollowing out of the existing landscape of American legal education.  While I am less confident in saying that this will accompany an enormous decline in the number of law schools or law students, the existing landscape is unsustainable.  Too many external threats loom; too many risks attendant to contemporary models; a mismatch between traditional objectives and the evolution of the marketplace.  Legal education in 2038 will look every different than it does now, and this as a result of significant, and for many of our law schools, largely unwelcome, shocks and impacts.  Before we get to the “never let a crisis go to waste” bromide, we need to get to a crisis.  And we can see the makings of a crisis ahead.  We can criticize the hyperbole, and question the motivations of those who are seemingly so gleeful about the bloodletting to come, but we should be wary of shooting the messenger.  Reckoning won't come in a day or a week, but there are very serious storm clouds and they cannot be wished away.

Second, change will be propelled by an admixture of well-established academic leaders (including, but not limited to, deans), young faculty, and entrepreneurs.  Established leaders are critical not only because of what we might call wisdom, in the absence of a better description, but because they will have the institutional muscle and reputational capital to propel reform.  It is easy to be cynical about the current and future generation of deans (and, as I am on the verge of exiting this role for good, I have no self-referential investment here), but it is to this generation of leaders that those committed to reform should look.  You want to foment and sustain change in a turbulent law school world?  Choose your leaders wisely; and give them every encouragement and incentive to succeed and to lead.  Maintenance experts are a dime-a-dozen. Visionary leaders are a rare commodity.  Know the difference, and embrace the difference.  Furthermore, young faculty will be critical in propelling reform.  They have the stamina and the interest investment to facilitate change, and their most temporally meaningful connections to the real world of practice (and, in addition, to more modern modalities of higher education and legal education) are key pieces in the puzzle. In the olden days, young faculty waited their turn.  Their turn must come earlier, and reform efforts will, I predict, will emerge from a much greater governance role of faculty members who are coming into their own as skilled, experienced teachers and scholars just as they are able and willing to turn their attention to reform of their enterprise.  Last but not least, entrepreneurs of a scattered background – imaginative law firm leaders, technologists, and consultants – can and will build bridges with academic leadership to generate change.  Social media and other devices are bringing, and will continue to bring, these folks together with legal educators.  Rather than view such entrepreneurs as the barbarians at the gate, they should and will be viewed as contributors to a collective enterprise, that is, reforming legal education in salutary and sustainable directions.

Third, and finally, new models of legal education will help build the scaffolding toward a new architecture of professional education more generally.  As I often insist to anyone who will listen, folks twenty or so years from now will look back at our era and the era of the past half century and wonder why, in our American universities, law schools exist in silos separate from business schools.  Law and business is a common enterprise.  Why don’t our schools of law and management see it that way?  They will wonder, as well, why engineering schools, medical schools, public policy schools, and other component parts of the university aspire to educate students entering a dynamic economy with methodologies that are narrow, and avoid confronting the fundamental synergies that exist and persist in a world that calls for multiple sources of knowledge and collaborative strategies of problem solving and governance.  There are hints of this change in new projects such as Stanford’s Design School.  But we are heading, I predict, for a much more de-siloed university.  And legal education can lead these efforts by gazing outward toward other modalities of knowledge and professional education (even while it simultaneously gazes inward in its effort to reflect methodically about what it means to teach students to “think like a lawyer”).

Our symposium participants have offered up so many creative ideas about how to get from here to there.  And Mike Madison’s initial thoughts – short of a jeremiad, but much more than a complaint – give us a promising template for thinking more deeply and broadly.  What I want to do simply is to strike a note of optimism.  We are going to see real.  It continues to be a painful process, but the payoff over the horizon is high indeed.  

Dan Rodriguez (Northwestern)  

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 9, 2018 at 01:36 AM | Permalink

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