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Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 5

There are many promising ideas and invitations in Professor Madison’s recent postings about law’s future(s).  While continuing to appreciate the many and varied contributions that U.S. law schools make to law and justice, I share Professor Madison’s view that there is more we can do to better serve society.  Changes in the legal profession and broader challenges to law’s role in society are indeed upon us; the question is not so much whether those will continue but whether legal educators will participate as well as we might in steering toward positive directions.

To do so, we will need to embrace a refreshing aspect of the conversation Professor Madison has opened:  recognizing the complexity of the task of meaningful “constitutional” reform.  Many current reform efforts and conversations have failed to confront this complexity and, as a result, have been and are unlikely to be up to the task.  For instance, neither alone nor together are changes (or proposed changes) such as the following likely to accomplish much to celebrate:  e.g.,

  • teaching law students coding skills;
  • adding a few more required “skills” credits;
  • adding a new Leg/Reg (or any other single) required course;
  • recruiting more STEM students;
  • using a different or no admission test;
  • reducing ABA accreditation to narrow outcome measures such as bar pass rates;
  • or changing the credit allocation in first-year courses (again!).

To address wide justice gaps, keep up with technological innovations, and account for an increasingly global marketplace for all products and services, including law, changes will indeed need to be more constitutional in nature.  That does not mean that there are not strong aspects of our current system that should be retained.  But while we may all agree that we don’t want to toss the proverbial baby with the bathwater, we may not agree on which is which.  Complexity can be, well, frustratingly complex.  With that in view, we must start somewhere, so in the spirit of beginnings, I offer the following initial ideas (in briefest outline) for reform that might move us more toward the nature of change Professor Madison contemplates:

  1. Reframe legal education’s focus from educating lawyers to teaching law more broadly. This would de-center the JD focus in favor of a wider suite of degree and credential offerings along the entire educational spectrum and would also better accommodate the many students who use their legal education to advance careers outside of law practice.
  2. Refocus state bar organizations on professional development and move licensing to the national level; permit licensing of a wider range of legal services providers; require licensing processes to meet best practices in the assessment industry.
  3. Restructure university school/college organization to unite fields that would benefit intellectually from closer association, to provide more diverse revenue bases to support overall quality, and to better build the pipeline of talent for those fields (e.g., law, public policy/affairs, government/governance, economics, political science, criminal justice, international relations/affairs).
  4. Focus on fundamental skills and competencies required for success in these fields that will stand the test of continued advances in machine learning (e.g., critical and creative thinking, complex problem solving, compassion, resilience, teamwork) and align admission requirements, program expectations, and licensing standards with assessment of and learning in those skills and competencies.
  5. Encourage formation of the legal equivalent of “teaching hospitals” at major universities to recognize that legal services are likewise critical to the health of people and society.
  6. Redesign the role of law faculty so that duties include serving clients (defined broadly), educating students, and improving law through scholarship and research.
  7. Refocus government and foundation funding of academic research to include law and justice on equal footing with scientific and medical research.
  8. Redesign an accrediting system so that instead of one category of “ABA-Approved” there are multiple designations that convey meaningful differences in quality and mission to guide the public and institutional design.

These are surely not the only areas that need attention; I’ve confined my list to some most directly related to legal education.  In follow up posts, I’ll address ideas for change that reach outside of legal education to law more generally, including the structure of law practice, judicial appointments, funding for legal services, and legal technology.

Kellye Testy (Law School Admissions Council; University of Washington)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 6, 2018 at 11:06 AM | Permalink


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