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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 30 (guest post, Harold Krent)

Michael Madison’s thoughtful posts have kicked off this symposium.  Most of us would agree that economic and technological developments are forcing law schools to reassess their role.  Fewer traditional jobs in law; fewer high paying jobs for graduates; fewer students willing to shell out sticker prices for a legal education, and even some uncertainty over Congress’s willingness to continue student loans spell trouble for the legal academy.  Megan Carpenter, as have others, has talked about the need for stratification in legal education, both with respect to what type of education law schools provide, and also with respect to the training needed to perform legal-related jobs such as real estate closings or incorporation of an LLC. 

I have futuristic views as well, but want to start by reflecting backwards.  We should keep in mind the substantial changes most law schools have made in the last generation.  It is hardly an exaggeration to say that experiential training has exploded in that time, and it has flowered in many ways.  Legal writing, skills and advocacy programs are no longer niche programs at a few non-elite schools. They are standard fare at almost every law school and, just as important, schools take them seriously.  Clinical students no longer focus solely on criminal law, government benefits and housing work for low-income clients, but have opportunities to immerse themselves in appellate work, legislative work, entrepreneurial law, small business advising, and family law.  In many of these clinics, students learn not only how the practice of law works, but how the business of law works because an increasing number of law school clinicians are now fee generators. Schools have invested heavily in externships and in simulations – we are familiar with the Washington and Lee experiment to offer (almost) exclusively experiential courses during the third year.  Pragmatic courses at the intersection of law and technology, like data analytics and block chain, are now offered, often instead of the law and humanities or law and social science classes that used to populate so much of the non-core curriculum.  Moreover, a number of schools such as ours offer courses in project management and problem solving.  Perhaps uniquely, we offer a certificate program called Praxis based on the idea that law students can and should  gain expertise in the soft skills that many sociologists have concluded contribute so substantially to  successful lawyering. 

Moreover, the attention that all of our schools place on pro bono has expanded even as our revenues dip.  I am impressed by efforts I have read about at any number of schools, from working with immigrants to reforming tenancy laws, and an increasing number of schools including ours seek to enhance access to justice through technology.  And, I know that many schools encourage students during spring break to volunteer their time, as a large group of our students did last week at an immigration detention facility in Texas.  Students learn important life lessons through these experiences:  what they are good at, what they care about, and how they want to define success for themselves.  If law schools in the past had paid more attention to the importance of these experiences, there might not have been as many lawyers who were so dissatisfied with their professional choices.

So, while I agree that, in the long run, legal education will change dramatically in the future, we should remind ourselves of the significant changes that been wrought in the last generation.  These changes in law schools reflect shifts in both the legal marketplace and in the student body.   We are producing a far more diverse group of graduates than ever before.  Some of these students want traditional legal careers, many do not.  All of them want a solid education that equips them better to become the professionals they want to be.  What the market wants and what our students want evolves, although  we may not have been as quick to change as some would like, we have adapted in important ways.  There is every reason to believe we can continue to do so, without fearing the future, and without losing sight of the beneficial changes we have made in the recent past.

Harold Krent (Chicago-Kent)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 20, 2018 at 08:24 AM | Permalink


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