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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 33 (guest post, Harold Krent)

In most of the world, legal education is focused on undergraduates.  The tradeoffs between the undergraduate and post-graduate models are many.  On the one hand, graduate education yields more mature students and students with more varied backgrounds and life experiences.  On the other hand, targeting undergraduates ensures that more people are exposed to the importance of law and its methodology, whatever their ultimate profession, with the added benefit, as my former colleague Dan Hunter reminds us in this symposium, of substantial cost savings.  Then, with concentrated training after graduation, the graduates could satisfy much of the current unmet legal needs, albeit at modest compensation.  We cannot rely exclusively on pro bono services to meet those needs, even as we use technology to expand the reach of such efforts.

There will always be need for the sophistication of attorneys in a Cravath or in the Department of Justice, and the graduate JD model that we currently follow may prove best to educate students for that path.  But, it is not as clear that graduate education is needed to prepare students to handle uncontested divorces, real estate closings, and administrative claims.

Although it may be anathema for a dean to suggest such a refocus, my prediction is that the market forces that many in this symposium have alluded to will precipitate such a move, sooner or later.  Arizona already offers a robust undergraduate program, and its success at least demonstrates that demand for undergraduate education currently exists.  And, why not – I believe we have much to offer undergraduates interested in learning about our legal system while enhancing their critical thinking and writing.  

But, I am not convinced by Dan Hunter’s second modest proposal that we integrate the LLB degrees currently awarded around the world with our own JD programs to graduate students in 5-6 years prepared to practice in more than one jurisdiction around the world.    Dan’s proposal of a LLB/JD is certainly doable, and would not look that different from a traditional 3 + 3 program.  With some entreaties to the ABA, we could offer integrated programs not only so that students upon graduation could practice in common law countries such Australia and the United States, but simultaneously in civil and common law countries as well.  And, those students – while missing the joys of history, anthropology, and chemistry during their undergrad years – would save time and money.  Indeed, Dan might have added that some foreign students accomplish a similar goal currently by gaining an undergrad degree in a foreign jurisdiction, pursuing a one-year LL.M. here, and then passing a U.S. bar exam.  We have students from China, France, and Georgia and elsewhere who have followed that path.  And, we even had one U.S. student who travelled that route, majoring in law as an undergraduate overseas, then returning here for one year to earn an LL.M. and then take a bar exam.  Clever, indeed.

Yet, Hunter’s proposal would not put a dent in satisfying the unmet legal needs facing both countries.  If lawyers are not available to help those with modest resources navigate through divorces, small business problems, or evictions, we should be training students to address such issues rather than the complex and somewhat rarefied corporate or insolvency issues that demand familiarity with both Australian and U.S. law.  Washington’s limited license legal technician has opened the door to reimagining the structure of the legal field so as to meet more legal needs.   Perhaps one-year of graduate education (or six months training after an undergraduate degree in law) would be sufficient for real estate closings and for representing social security disability claimants at the administrative level.   Regulatory obstacles exist, but Washington’s example along with the success of Arizona’s undergraduate program provide the first steps towards a more cost effective match between the legal education provided and the tasks needed.   And, change will likely come at the individual state bar level, whether Washington’s relatively recent experiment with limited licenses or California’s longer experience (as Jackie Gardina relates) with accrediting schools outside of the ABA system.  So, while I hesitate to accept Dan’s offer to build a joint LLB/JD program, I offer to work with him and others to encourage state bars to experiment in approving more limited legal  licenses to expand access to justice.

Harold Krent (Chicago-Kent)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 27, 2018 at 01:07 PM | Permalink


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