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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 23

Law Schools Teaching Non-Lawyers

I was recently asked to chair the search for a new Dean for the Business School.  It was a fascinating process, and I was struck by the diversity of programming and expansive way in which many business schools think about education.  Executive programs.  Part time programs.  Partnerships with business and industry. 

This experience enriched an important question I had been thinking about and building structures around as a new Dean: should the “futures” of legal education include an expanded focus on legal education for individuals who are not – and will likely never become – US lawyers?  In some circumstances, this move may have the potential to help law schools financially.  But for this post, let’s put that aside – assume that such a change would be at least revenue-neutral, to focus the real discussion on whether it’s a good idea.

The range of potential students of law, beyond the familiar “law students,” is enormous.  Foreign trained attorneys (although many are interested in taking the bar, usually either in California or New York).  Undergraduate students with an interest in law.  Executives who are not lawyers but interact with lawyers and want to be more sophisticated consumers of legal products and services.  Professionals who are looking to get closer to the legal department without joining it.  Journalists who cover legal issues.  Citizens with an ambition to become lawmakers, or those tasked with administering the law. Those who are just curious about law.  And so on.  Existing LLM and MLS degrees serve some of these individuals, but certainly not all.

Although these groups are all different, some common questions include:

  • Should we be doing this? To those who say yes, this is a move completely in line with developments in the legal profession – unbundling, commodification, technological developments, etc.  And to the extent that this sort of education trains future clients or colleagues of future JDs, it helps build a more informed market for the core of what law schools do.  To those that say no, there can and will be other educational opportunities for these students outside of traditional legal education, and prioritizing time and resources in this direction takes away from the important and core work of educating our JD students.  Count me firmly in the “yes” category.
  • Should we be doing this? That is, do law schools have advantages over other educators in this space?  Certainly we can claim a competitive advantage in teaching students to be lawyers (and although I believe we do it well, the reality is we basically get to dominate because of regulation).  And we have the ability to think deeply about areas of law and the modes of legal reasoning, and both influence its development and pass on that knowledge to students.  Is that needed or desirable when legal education is moved outside of the JD context?  Here too, I think so.  Just because other students will not become lawyers does not mean that they do not benefit from learning from those with subject matter and pedagogical mastery.
  • Related, residential faculty or adjunct faculty? Working more now with the rest of the University, I have been struck by how uniquely situated we are regarding adjunct faculty.  At least for those of us in major metropolitan areas, we have large numbers of highly experienced experts who are simply not primarily motivated by money when they seek to teach students.  And we have become adept at discerning which of these experts are also skilled in the classroom.  Should they be deployed to these new audiences?  I think yes, supplementing residential faculty, carefully.
  • Should these students be integrated into JD classes, or should there be separate instruction? At most schools, I think it is fair to say the JD is what we do best.  So anything we attempt to build for these other audiences – while maybe great in and of itself – probably won’t be as good, at least at first.  It will take experimentation and improvements to perfect.  Some of these audiences (many, I believe) will benefit from interaction with our JD students, and vice-versa.  Accreditation issues limit some of this, but those regulations are also always evolving. 

 Business schools are different from law schools.  But the delivery of education outside of what was considered a core audience is thought provoking. A great law school of the future (and perhaps even the present) will be about more than educating JD students.

Michael Waterstone (Loyola L.A.)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 17, 2018 at 11:11 AM | Permalink


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