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Sunday, March 25, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 31 (Robert Ahdieh)

From Training Lawyers to Teaching Law

I have been pleased to learn from the perspectives and insights of so many of the symposium postings to date.  With this post, I hope to engage the discussion in several previous posts – including especially Michael Waterstone’s post on “Law Schools Teaching Non-Lawyers” (#23), but also earlier posts by Megan Carpenter (#11) and Kellye Testy (#5) – regarding the role of law schools in educating non-lawyers.  Having been closely involved in building out Emory Law School’s master’s degree offering in that space over the last seven years, I heartily endorse – and enthusiastically commend to others – the value of that role.

The Rhetoric of Legal Education

To begin, a quick word on relevant rhetoric:  In her post, Kellye speaks of shifting our focus “from educating lawyers to teaching law more broadly.”  I have likewise spoken for some time about the need for law schools to determine whether we are solely in the business of “training lawyers,” or whether our mandate is better understood as “teaching law” – whomever the audience.  Someone is going to teach those going into business, the healthcare industry, and other fields the law; the only question is who.[1]

In something of a similar spirit did the University of Southern California – under the leadership of path-breaking Dean (and now Senior Judge on the Ninth Circuit) Dorothy W. Nelson – adopt the moniker of “Law Center” for its law school decades ago.  And have I (among others, including Emory’s president, Claire E. Sterk) suggested the notion that law schools might come to think of themselves as “Graduate Schools of Law.”

Complexity and the Education of Non-Lawyer Professionals

While there is some history behind the notion of law schools doing more than training lawyers, thus, I would suggest that such an expansion of our mandate is of greater importance today than ever – given the growing complexity of our social, economic, and political life today.  As the world has grown (and continues to grow) ever more complex, the breadth, depth, and volume of regulation has grown with it.  And likewise, the universe of professionals in need of some grounding in law and regulation.  And even in the skills of complex problem-solving that are the core of what we teach in law school.

If the world is indeed more complex today than it was a decade ago (and will be yet more complex a decade hence), then, law schools do well to think about their role in educating the increasingly broad array of professionals who might benefit from an understanding of law and regulation – and even from knowing “how to think like a lawyer.”  Especially in heavily regulated fields – from finance to energy/natural resources, and from healthcare to human resources – that need is both readily apparent and highly urgent.  We may thus stand on the cusp of the world Michael describes: one in which law is viewed “as an essential core curriculum for professionals in any discipline.”[2]

Financial Considerations?

In his analysis, Michael brackets the question of the financial implications of law schools expanding their offerings for non-lawyers.  He is right to do so, in the context of determining whether a law school should undertake to offer non-lawyer programming – be it a master’s degree, a certificate program, executive education offerings, or otherwise.  As Robert Schapiro, former dean at Emory Law, always took care to emphasize: We must ensure that each and every one of our academic offerings serves to advance our mission, and not simply to pay for it.

That said, we should not shy away from acknowledging – and even embracing – the financial benefits of such offerings.  And not simply (or even primarily) because of their potential to help underwrite maintenance of the quality of our JD student bodies and the breadth of the academic opportunities we offer them.  Rather, as Kellye suggests in her post, such programs should be understood to “provide more diverse revenue bases to support overall quality.”

Assuming relatively non-variable expenses, the absence of an open credit line from the university, and a resulting imperative to “make budget,” a law school with a single degree program must necessarily admit students into that program to the point of meeting its revenue target.  With only a few exceptions among law schools, that is likely to require the admission of at least a few (marginal) students, who might otherwise not have been admitted.  Where a second degree program exists, by contrast, admissions in the first program can be halted before crossing that marginal point, and admissions initiated in the second program instead.  With only two programs, however, one might expect to see an analogous need to admit students outside the school’s preferred pool to the second program.  A third program, of course, would help with that.  And so on, and so forth.

Of course, there are costs to having too many programs.  For many law schools, though, I suspect that a manageable number of programs would likely suffice to minimize (if not eliminate) the need for admissions outside the school’s preferred pool of matriculants.

From that perspective, academic programs for non-lawyers may serve an important revenue function – but not in the narrow sense that function is sometimes understood.  A diversified set of programs allows a school to build a community of well-qualified students across multiple programs – who add up, I would argue, to much more than the sum of their parts.

The Benefits of Non-Lawyer Education for JD’s

Why does a law school community including students who do not aspire to practice law add up to more than the sum of its parts?  I have suggested, to this point, that non-lawyer offerings can be understood to respond to the growing complexity of the world around us.  Further, they create a community of more qualified students, coming from a broader range of backgrounds, and pursuing a broader range of post-graduate goals.

That community, in turn, is precisely the right setting in which to educate our JD students.  The degree of understanding, effectiveness, and perspective with which JD students leave law school is dramatically enhanced, thus, by the presence of students with diverse educational backgrounds, professional experiences, and ultimate goals.

In my own classes, I have seen just this dynamic at work.  Teaching notice-and-comment rulemaking to first-semester 1L’s in Legislation and Regulation proved dramatically easier, for example, when one of their classmates was an expert on biological risk management.  As she unexpectedly volunteered, in the midst of my unsuccessful efforts to offer a sense of the informal rulemaking process:  “I remember my first notice-and-comment rulemaking…”  Likewise, in Emory Law’s course on the Regulation of Healthcare Providers:  There, the long-time adjunct professor described his first time offering the course with our then-brand new “Juris Master” students in the mix as the best semester ever – given class discussions that now included not only the future lawyers, but also the hospital administrators and even medical doctors.

I do not want to overstate my point:  The teaching of non-lawyers comes with significant challenges – including both psychic and practical.  I would be the first to acknowledge those, and am glad to walk through them with any and all comers.  But the concomitant benefits, I believe – not only for law schools, but in creating a more just and orderly world, and even advancing the Rule of Law – more than outweigh those challenges.

Robert Ahdieh  (Emory)

[1] Most business schools already teach law – in some cases with a substantial array of mandatory and elective course offerings.  Increasingly, medical schools and others are following suit.  Like Michael, however, I am firmly of the view that law schools are the institutions best positioned to offer that education.

[2] Kellye suggests the potential emergence of a more diversified universe of legal professionals – as we have seen in the healthcare industry, with the rise of nurse practitioners and other healthcare professionals besides physicians.  In fact, that world may already be upon us, judging by the job advertising statistics she cites.

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 25, 2018 at 10:51 AM | Permalink


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