Legal Education’s Waterloo: The Fire Swamp

FLW

This is the third and final installment of a response to a recent Forbes.com essay from Mark Cohen about the present and future and future of legal education. Mark’s essay is “Post-Pandemic Legal Education.”  I posted a quick hot take as Legal Education’s Waterloo, dove in more deeply with Legal Education’s Waterloo: Urgency, and jumped to the end of the story in Legal Education’s Waterloo: The End Game.  This is the promised middle piece, on mechanics of getting wherever we are now to wherever it is that we might end up. If you’re willing to focus on the big picture and on how the big picture influences the smaller things (such as: what should I be doing right now?), then this is probably the most important of the three.

It’s so important, at least to me, that it’s longer than either of the first two installments. Much longer. I had to break it into three parts of its own. This is the first.

TL/DR version: Strap in. Change is going to be messy, maybe ugly, and no one has a game plan for it or for you – practitioners, judges, academics, students and new graduates, entrepreneurs. Least of all me. It’s like the fire swamp, from The Princess Bride. Survive it? You’re only skeptical because no one ever has.

Here is the case that I’ve made so far:

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Legal Education’s Waterloo: The End Game

FLW

This is the second part of a promised three-part response to Mark Cohen’s recent Forbes.com essay (“Post-Pandemic Legal Education”) about what confronts legal education today and what awaits it in the future. My initial hot take appeared here, as Legal Education’s Waterloo. My first substantive reaction, Legal Education’s Waterloo: Urgency, agreed with the premise that US legal education confronts immense challenges, but it focused on cultural prompts rather than financial ones as likely drivers of change. Those prompts consist of intersections among law schools, law students, and markets for lawyers. What’s at stake isn’t merely law schools’ ability to feed the market for lawyers but all lawyers’ interest in how we train the legal experts of the future. The law will be in their hands.

This second substantive comment jumps to the end, evaluating Mark Cohen’s vision of the likely future and giving it some important context.  The final part of the response is the trickiest, or messiest, which is why it’s being held for last: how do we all get from where we are now to wherever it is that we’re going?

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Legal Education’s Waterloo: Urgency

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In Legal Education’s Waterloo, I promised a longer comment on an excellent recent provocation in Forbes.com by Mark Cohen, concerning what US law schools are doing, are not doing, and should be doing with respect to training new lawyers for impactful future careers. The longer comment comes in three parts. One has to do the urgency of change. That’s this part. Two, yet to come, will deal with a vision of what legal education likely looks like in some future, better world.  Three, also in the future, will talk about how legal education gets from where it is today to where it is likely to go, either willingly or unwillingly. 

On One and Two, I mostly agree with Mark. Change is urgent, and the future doesn’t look too much like the present. On those points, I want to add some nuance and re-characterization, because the world looks different when you’re on the inside.  If you’re trying to persuade insiders to change their ways (which may or may not be the goal of the Forbes piece), then it can be helpful to see things as they do.  The outside view is important, too, but it’s probably best to blend the two. 

Three is the most complicated, which is why it’s last.

On Urgency

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Legal Education’s Waterloo

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“Legal education is at a crossroads. Its model was under siege before the pandemic and  underwater now.” “Traditional legal education’s Waterloo may come as a surprise to many in academia, but not for business where pan-industry disruption of dominant provider models has become routine.”

Those are key quotes from an urgent new piece by Mark Cohen, at Forbes.com.

There’s a lot to like in it (the urgency, for starters), a lot to unpack (the vision of what comes next), and a lot to add.

I wrote a long, similar response to an earlier piece of his ([part 1] [part 2] and [part 3]), and there’s another response in the works.

A preview, in two parts:

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The Shapes and Letters of the Modern Lawyer

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The professional world of modern legal services is essentially unanimous in concluding that analytic skills, which law schools focus on (particularly in US-style JD programs), are only parts of what makes lawyers successful.

What are the other skills? Competencies of different sorts. But once we get past elementary matters of substantive legal knowledge; ethical conduct; and perhaps rudimentary law office management, there is less agreement on which competencies matter or matter most. And there is almost no agreement as to how lawyers (especially law students and new lawyers) are supposed to find and acquire them.

Should law schools implement programs to instill additional (or different competencies) in law students? Should law firms and other professional organizations train and support their new hires as part of the professional development? Should third parties innovate in the gaps between legal education and professional development? Should students and new lawyers search out new and different modes of training? All of these?

The competencies are, helpfully, bundled, making the how questions a bit easier to answer, in principle. They’re bundled in models: models of the successful lawyer. Models that have shapes and letters.

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