The Responsive Law School

US law schools today are subjected to a lot of criticism, much of it deserved. One big chunk that is not always deserved is this: Law schools aren’t sufficiently in tune with the needs of the market. That’s the topic of this post and others to come: What, when, how, and why should law schools care about the market?

For the moment, I set aside other common critiques of legal education, many of which are deserved. That it’s too expensive. That it crushes the souls of aspiring lawyers. That it produces too many lawyers, or too few. That law schools are staffed by underqualified teachers and undertrained scholars. That law schools are staffed by undercompensated adjunct faculty and overqualified PhDs. That some schools focus too much on theory and not enough on the necessaries of practice, while others focus too much on bar exam-readiness and not enough on law on the ground.

I want to focus instead on the problem of what law graduates today are trained to handle and what they’re not trained to handle. I’ll use that beginning to edge into discussion about the future of higher education generally. Narrow start, big finish.

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Bringing Change to the Law

Change is one of the themes of this rebooted blog.  In law, legal services, the legal profession, and legal education, what does change look like?  Why and how is change happening?  How can we accelerate the pace of needed change? 

What does change management in the law look like, if we want to produce better lawyers, more nimble and flexible law schools, improve access to justice, expand the range and impact of legaltech, and more? This is innovation and creativity and disruption; there are models and encouragement for all of these things. 

Today, I pause for stability and constancy. The questions are not:  how and why do things change? Instead, the questions are:  how and why do things stay the same? Inertia and a status quo bias are not sufficient answers.  Just as it is important to get into the details of how change happens, it is important to get into the details of how stasis happens. And in the latter case as in the former, it is important to build some models and theories, so that we might eventually be better at pushing policy and strategy levers in one direction or another.

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Leadership and the T-shaped Lawyer

I promised an example of those challenges: leadership education.

For the first time in my experience in the law, and perhaps for the first time in their institutional history, US law schools have started to invest resources in training law students and new law graduates in “leadership.” I put “leadership” in quotation marks because what “leadership development” and “leadership education” mean in law schools and the legal profession is as multi-faceted as it is important.

What are law schools doing in the leadership area, why are they doing it, and what do these efforts suggest about the futures of legal education, law, and the legal services industry?

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On Training “T-shaped” Lawyers

These conversations apply to law the “T-shaped” concept that has circulated in professional development circles for a bit longer, arguing that successful professionals increasingly need not only deep technical skills in the relevant discipline (the vertical bar) but also a solid suite of related general skills (the horizontal bar). What’s right, what’s wrong, what’s new, and what’s missing in these conversations?

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The Dis-Integration of Legal Education

Last week’s post, about “The New Look of Legal Education,” emphasized the ways in which contemporary US legal education strongly resembles the legal education of the last several decades.

In many respects, the core of the current JD program remains tethered to the innovations of Christopher Columbus Langdell at Harvard in the 1870s:  law taught as an academic discipline, rather than as a professional craft; law taught by full-time faculty members, rather than primarily via part-time teaching offered by members of the bench and bar; admission to law school conditioned on completion of a full undergraduate degree. 

This week, I want to play Devil’s advocate, by emphasizing the many ways in which that core is starting to disintegrate – or, rather, dis-integrate – at the edges.  Whether or not the initiatives and innovations I list here add up to a frontal challenge to the three-year professional JD degree, taken together they suggest a number of ways in which the JD may be starting to lose its hegemonic status as required training in law and for a legal career. 

In later posts, I’ll explore each of the items below with a somewhat sharper lens, to see whether in part or in total they add up to anything more than a mish-mash of adaptations and evolution.  Are these warnings of the end of the hegemony of the JD (my suspicion), or modern variations on the usual to-and-fro associated with any long-standing educational service?

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