Law, Legal Education, and Imagining the Future: The Project Continues, Part 6 and End

“The Futures of Legal Education: A Virtual Symposium” is the title of the program convened by Dean Dan Rodriguez at Prawfsblawg for the month of March 2018, eliciting critiques of and extensions of the ideas organized in the provocations posted in December 2017 as “An Invitation Regarding Law, Legal Education, and Imagining the Future.” [Part I, here] [Part II, here] [Part III, here] [Part IV, here] [Part V, here] [And the piece in full, as a single document, from SSRN]

The symposium is organized under the “2018 Symposium: Future of Legal Ed” tag. I have collected highlights from all of the posts, approximately 10 posts at a time. The first batch appears here. The second batch is here. The third batch is here. The fourth batch is here. The fifth batch is here.

Final posts:

“At UNH Law we have been working to train judges and professionals around the world on intellectual property issues for over 20 years, and our faculty has had a hand in assisting emerging economies develop intellectual property legal frameworks. We are currently developing programs to train professionals in legal issues at the intersection of IP and health care in the bioinnovation industry. But we can do more to work with other law schools—and universities—as partners in ways that capitalize on our individual strengths for collective benefit. Companies like iLaw are treading into waters beyond the traditional boundaries of individual law schools in ways that can help overcome these barriers. But I would challenge us, too, as leaders of our own institutions, to think about ways to unbundle what we offer and work together in ways that provide the best education for students beyond the silos of individual schools.” (Megan Carpenter, University of New Hampshire)

“Much of our effort at curricular innovation, I would suggest, might be thought of building a third leg of the stool: what I would frame as the non-legal skills of effective lawyering. At Emory – as elsewhere – we have introduced a growing collection of courses directed to skills that are essential to operating at the highest level of legal practice, but which are not legal skills per se. From leadership, project management, and various soft skills, to the fundamentals of client value, the economics of legal practice, and basic accounting, these skills are likely to significantly enhance the efficacy of lawyers in the 21st century – notwithstanding their distance from the traditional core curriculum of legal education.

“At Emory, we have offered the bulk of those courses in conjunction with the Goizueta Business School. We have offered them in concentrated formats, meanwhile, to maximize the ability of a wide swath of students to enroll. Whatever the format, however, such courses might be thought of as helping to ensure that our graduates are versed in the full range of skills and abilities to thrive amidst a challenging – but opportunity-rich – landscape of legal practice in the 21st century.” (Robert Ahdieh, Emory University)

“All of us will have limited bandwith for initiatives that are directly concerned with Public Interest Law. And, frankly, there will be a ceiling for student demand for these initiatives, given their career ambitions (endogenous to the economic model of legal education to be sure) and the configuration of law faculties. So, at bottom, law schools will attend to Public Interest Law to only some extent — should be more, but will only do so much. By contrast, I think that we would do well to see law in the public interest as an imperative to promote throughout the curriculum, as part of, to use Deborah Rhode’s truly memorable phrase, a pervasive method. How will the representation of this client serve the public interest, as well as her private, and typically pecuniary, interest? How will the development of creative legal solutions enabled by new technologies further public interest agendas alongside the economic interests of actors availing themselves of these technologies? Folks in the vanguard of thinking about, say, blockchain and autonomous vehicles are considering such questions, and law schools should be encouraging and incentivizing these ventures.

“So, my point is a small one in the grand theme of things, and a rather abstract one. I offer it as a slight help in framing our objectives. Constructing programs and curricula to further law in the public interest is a salutary task to be considered as larger, and perhaps realistically more comprehensively than, ambitions to expand offerings and opportunities in Public Interest Law (although, let me say again, such goals are worthy in their own right).” (Dan Rodriguez, Northwestern University)

“But the relevance of legal education to non-lawyer professionals in the coming years goes even beyond the substance of laws and regulations applicable to their fields of practice. Rather, in the face of increasing complexity, it extends to the very heart of what we have traditionally been thought to teach: how to think like a lawyer.

“Non-lawyer professionals will not, of course, practice law. But the heart of thinking like a lawyer – perhaps too well-known to every family member of every lawyer in history – is a particularly systematic and refined approach to complex problem-solving. And in an increasingly complex world, interest in such problem-solving skills can only be expected to grow. And not just among lawyers, but among professionals of all stripes.

“The coming years, then, hold the promise of a great flourishing of legal education – as lawyers have occasion to play an increasingly critical role in engaging the social, economic, and political travails of humanity. And likewise, as the demand for training in both the substance and skills of law and “legal” reasoning grows.

“Of course, not every law school is likely to seize such opportunities. The coming years may not, as such, be a Golden Age for every law school.

“The can be a Golden Age for legal education generally, however, and particularly for those schools that embrace innovation, that recognize the role of specialization, and that engage in meaningful efforts at differentiation. For those of us willing to learn from the insights of scholars, teachers, and practitioners such as those who have participated in this symposium, thus, I believe the future is bright.” (Robert Ahdieh, Emory University)

“In looking back over my entries, I’m struck by how dystopian of legal education my vision must seem. I think this is because I always overestimate the speed of technology uptake, and underestimate the effect of culture. You’ll have to forgive me on this: I have spent my entire career professionally watching the way that digital tech has transformed our life. But the other experiences that drive my worldview are hanging out in the startup world and running a tiny, everyone-thinks-we’re-gonna-fail law school (that I started just as the legal education market really tanked). So, I’m primed to assume that things are going to change a lot. In a negative way. And very fast.

“But perhaps we should be very hopeful about the future of legal education. Law profs and law deans are a smart bunch. The university has existed more-or-less in its current form within the Western tradition for more than 900 years. And the lessons of the innovation generation are being built out into the wide range of law school responses, as Andrew Perlman sagely documents.

“The most important lesson I’ve learnt from those who run startup accelerators is that they exist to de-risk the naturally dangerous bets that you have to place on the future. They’re there to help people think through the hard bit of innovation: of working out whether this new thing is going to work or not. And it turns out that this kind of knowledge exists within universities. Lots of people out there, some in university design schools or in university-hosted innovation incubators/accelerators, know how to get us to the new, new thing. If there was one thing I’d advocate is for law schools to learn how to innovate cheaply and without undue risk. The lesson of the Lockheed-Martin Skunk Works (and innumerable startups since then) is that significant innovation is almost certainly not going to come out of a committee, and it needs to be stuck away in a corner, with a small amount of funding, a limited timeframe, a forgiving governance structure, and the right to fail. This is the opposite of how our normal process in schools works: the faculty governance structures within universities privilege consensus over danger. (I am, for example, acutely aware that given my bomb-throwing in this symposium, when my gig here in Australia is up I’m almost certainly never going to be asked to run a US law school…)” (Dan Hunter, Swinburne (Australia))

“When the next generations join us on the law faculty, we’ll see online scholarship and teaching become more normalized and perhaps even part of the tenure/promotion/other rewards processes. After all, much of the future is in their hands. All of these changes have been relatively slow compared to some other fields, but that’s characteristic of legal education.” (Margaret Ryznar, University of Indiana – Indianapolis)

“A number of contributors, including Bobby Ahdieh, Megan Carpenter, Michael Waterstone, and Kellye Testy, have posted in this symposium about the proliferation and contributions of degree programs for non-lawyers. However one slices and dices the data, it is becoming clear that the development of these programs is a major event in the modern evolution of legal education. There are more than 17,000 non-JD students enrolled in ABA-accredited law schools right now, and, while I do not know the breakdown between LLM and other programs, I am reasonably confident that the non-LLM Masters cohort is large and where the real growth is. We can expect these programs to grow apace, even though, as Ahdieh notes, what we mean by “these programs” is complicated, as different law schools (including mine, with our MSL/Law-STEM program) pursue different strategies in the marketplace.

I want to add to this discussion two reflections. First, the attention paid to the market, that is, the demand of students for these programs on the one hand the demand of the marketplace for individuals with these new, and rather unusual, credentials and education, should not blind us to the need as law schools and legal educators to make some fundamental judgments about (1) what it means as a pedagogical – and even epistemological – matter to teach law to folks who are not aspiring to become lawyers, and (2) how we expect these students to become integrated in a law school environment where the core mission remains educating future lawyers.” (Dan Rodriguez, Northwestern University)

“Watching the students in LawX work together as a team (not always seamlessly, to be sure) caused me to remember my own experiences as a law student, which were mostly isolating. As you would expect, I received some mentorship from professors and some encouragement from classmates, family members, and friends, but the work of law school was largely solitary. Near the end of last semester, I was reflecting on those experiences with my co-teacher in a leadership course and thinking about the contrast provided by our experience with LawX. We decided to make teamwork a focus of our new course. In our syllabus, we wrote: “We believe that we should become excellent at working together, and when we work together we achieve excellence. Our objective is to help each other excel in learning and in performance.”

“In the wake of LawX, I have been wondering how we should feature teamwork in other parts of our program of legal education, and there is much more to say about that topic, but the point of this story is to illustrate the importance of surprise. Traditionally, law students have been trained to anticipate the future, but we live in an increasingly complex and unpredictable world. Our students need to experience and embrace surprise. And those of us who aspire to innovate in legal education should expect many surprises along the way. Design thinking is not the only approach to teaching the value of surprise, but I am embracing the notion that as we strive to improve legal education, we should avoid prejudging solutions.” (Gordon Smith, Brigham Young University)

“A key theme throughout this virtual symposium has been on how we foster innovation. One of the most crucial elements of creating an innovation culture is providing space for failure. I talk a lot with our community about the importance of learning leadership. We all make mistakes, and the key to success is what we learn from them and how resilient we are.

In a pilot, we try something new at a small scale without knowing if it will work. It is intentionally structured for the learning crucial to innovation. So, we are piloting modular online courses aimed at nonlawyers, new approaches to joint degrees, our first pop up event for the Legal-Tech Virtual Lab, new educational partnerships in Panama, etc. Some of these pilots will work well, some will need some tweaking, and some will be disasters.

But where we end up as a law school will be better because we made room for playful learning. And if we can learn from one another’s pilots across institutions, all the better. That is how we get to “the next thing after the next thing,” a phrase that I learned from my inspiring colleague Interim Vice Provost for Online Education Renata Engel.” (Hari Osofsky, Penn State – University Park)

“Change will be propelled by an admixture of well-established academic leaders (including, but not limited to, deans), young faculty, and entrepreneurs. Established leaders are critical not only because of what we might call wisdom, in the absence of a better description, but because they will have the institutional muscle and reputational capital to propel reform. It is easy to be cynical about the current and future generation of deans (and, as I am on the verge of exiting this role for good, I have no self-referential investment here), but it is to this generation of leaders that those committed to reform should look. You want to foment and sustain change in a turbulent law school world? Choose your leaders wisely; and give them every encouragement and incentive to succeed and to lead. Maintenance experts are a dime-a-dozen. Visionary leaders are a rare commodity. Know the difference, and embrace the difference. Furthermore, young faculty will be critical in propelling reform. They have the stamina and the interest investment to facilitate change, and their most temporally meaningful connections to the real world of practice (and, in addition, to more modern modalities of higher education and legal education) are key pieces in the puzzle. In the olden days, young faculty waited their turn. Their turn must come earlier, and reform efforts will, I predict, will emerge from a much greater governance role of faculty members who are coming into their own as skilled, experienced teachers and scholars just as they are able and willing to turn their attention to reform of their enterprise. Last but not least, entrepreneurs of a scattered background – imaginative law firm leaders, technologists, and consultants – can and will build bridges with academic leadership to generate change. Social media and other devices are bringing, and will continue to bring, these folks together with legal educators. Rather than view such entrepreneurs as the barbarians at the gate, they should and will be viewed as contributors to a collective enterprise, that is, reforming legal education in salutary and sustainable directions.” (Dan Rodriguez, Northwestern University)

“Anyone reading or writing these posts is also welcome to advance these conversations in any additional ways they choose. Share symposium posts with faculty colleagues, with Deans and Provosts, with chairs of boards of visitors, with interested former students and friends in the legal profession, in law libraries, legal services firms, law/tech communities, law/design groups, and elsewhere. The American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Education is pursuing an ongoing, overlapping inquiry. Comparing the submissions to that Commission to the posts at this symposium is revealing and potentially important.” (Mike Madison, University of Pittsburgh)

In Conclusion, Dan Rodriguez (Northwestern University):

Mike Madison’s post — #61 in this series — is appropriately the last one in this series (though certainly not the final word in this important discussion of our enterprise.). I thank him, all the other contributors, and the editors of this blog for indulging us in this multi-week conversation. I hope the readers found the discussion provocative and thought-provoking.

Here is some interesting data analytics from our discussion:

We had 61 posts, from 27 contributors, including 11 guest posters. Contributors were from a diverse range of schools and professional roles and you can see that they offered perspectives that were quite diverse in content and in tone. In total, these posts added up to 57,600 words — equivalent to a huge law review article or two plentiful articles or even a short monograph. A lot of nourishing food for thought!

Thanks, again, for all who contributed to this virtual symposium. We can only hope that these ideas contribute to a great future of legal education.

DBR