« DOES LEGAL SCHOLARSHIP LIVE AND DIE IN A VACUUM? | Main | Class certification and universal injunctions »

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 48 (Dan Hunter)

How to Disrupt (Part 2)

I spend a lot of time in the startup community, where one of the main analysis points is “Product/Market Fit.”(PMF) One aspect of this analysis: no matter how beautiful your product, if the market doesn’t want it then you’re going to fail. So, make sure your product fits your market. (Duh.)

Another way to think about this is to ask what is the compelling value proposition for legal education in its current form? The answer to this question should not be that the Section says that we’re the only ones allowed to offer it…

I spend a lot of time thinking about the PMF of legal education, about the nature of the product that law schools provide and who is the market for it. And it won’t come as much of a surprise that, I think that legal education (and higher education generally) has got the PMF totally wrong. If asked, my guess is that we mostly think that our market is LSAT-takers, and our product is the JD. (Or whatever the correlates of these are in your jurisdiction.) [1]

But I think that our market is the entire legal services market (not the legal profession) and our product is the person who emerges at the end of our training process with the knowledge/skills/dispositions that allow them to deliver services within that market.

A relatively straightforward sustaining innovation [2] from this observation is the suggestion of Michael Waterstone (here and here) that law schools should diversify their offerings outside the JD to provide other law-related degrees such as LLMs in tax or undergrad programs in business law. I definitely agree with this, since it rethinks the nature of the market (and doesn’t necessarily limit our grads to the “legal profession”). But this isn’t going to save us. Because it misunderstands the nature of the market and the product, a connection that disruptive players are working out.

The disruptive player which keeps me up at night is LinkedIn. [3] Microsoft paid a fortune to acquire the platform and its petabytes of data on its bajillion users, just after it bought the video-training platform Lynda. This wasn’t a coincidence. LinkedIn has the CVs of hundreds of millions of people, and it knows their employment aspirations and training needs. It also knows the employment needs of tens of millions of employers. It has a business unit that offers training that can connect the dots between the would-be employee and the employer, so that the employee can skill-up using a just-in-time training system in order to make themselves fit better with the fast-changing needs of the employment market.[4] In short, it is a data-driven education business that knows precisely what employers want and what employees need, and can precisely meet those needs.

Against that, law schools have a degree that was designed in the 19th C and hasn’t changed much since. We have literally no reliable data at all on the employment needs of the legal services market, outside some colorful anecdotes from alums and maybe some half hour interviews with managing partners of AmLaw50 firms. And many of us insist on referring to the “legal profession” as though that was still a meaningful concept.

Oh wait, at least we have the Accreditation Industrial Complex to save us…

I don’t wish to be as negative as Michele Pistone earlier in this symposium, but I worry about law schools and higher ed. Earlier this year I put together an investment pitch deck for my university. In an effort to get out ahead of this problem, I suggested to the powers-that-be that we could use microcredentialling and apps to connect the needs of learners to those of the employers, and I laid out fairly precisely how the university could have a meaningful role in this interaction, how it could be being the honest broker in the entire virtuous circle and make itself relevant for the decades ahead; and not just in legal education but more broadly throughout the university.

Three guesses how this went down…

If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on the future of legal education being outside of the university. As an old school, dyed-in-the-wool legal academic this fills me with sadness.


[1] I’m assuming here that I’m addressing law school professors, deans and the like. Other readers will have different markets and products.

[2] Michele Pistone gives a nice account of the difference between sustaining and disruptive innovations in legal education here—which is really helpful, since everyone should read her piece, it really points the way.

[3] Of course the problem is much, much larger than LinkedIn. Pick any job search site that operates in your jurisdiction (Monster.com, Indeed.com, Seek.com.au, etc, etc). Do a quick search on whether they’ve bought a training platform recently. Oh wow, they have. Then ask whether your university president or provost: (a) is aware of this, and (b) is inking a deal for a strategic relationship with a job search engine. No, didn’t think so.

[4] Sure, LinkedIn is currently pretty crap at training and education. I promise you, it will get better.

Dan Hunter (Swinburne, Australia)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on April 3, 2018 at 10:46 PM | Permalink


The comments to this entry are closed.