For a New Year: An Invitation Regarding Law, Legal Education, and Imagining the Future, Part I

Modern law schools were invented before modern law practice emerged.

I mean that statement as the first part of an invitation, rather than as the first part of an argument. The invitation, below and in several posts to follow, is to participate in conversations about the future of legal education in ways that integrate rather than distinguish several threads of concern and revision that have emerged over the last decade. Continue reading

IP and Ignorance

My views of the deficiencies and virtues of intellectual property scholarship pop up on this blog from time to time, usually just before or just after the annual IPSC – Intellectual Property Scholars Conference.  See posts from 2014, and 2010, and 2007.

I am headed to Chicago tomorrow for the 2015 edition of IPSC, but instead of ranting about the state of IP scholarship, instead I’ll point you all to a provocative article:

Andrew Abbott, “Varieties of Ignorance,” American Sociologist, 41:174-189, 2010.

You’ll need access to Springer or JSTOR, etc., probably through an institutional subscription, to read the whole thing in English.  At least part of the English language version may be available here.  There is a German language version available here.

The video above is, of course, the trailer for “Birdman, or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance,” which won the Best Picture Academy Award earlier this year. I enjoyed that film but thought that “Boyhood” was superior in just about every way.

Farewell to a Contracts Giant, John Murray

The legal blogosphere has been curiously quiet regarding the news that John Murray, law faculty member at Duquesne Law, former faculty member at Pitt Law, former Dean of the law schools at Pitt and at Villanova, and Chancellor and former President of Duquesne University, passed away last Wednesday.

(Thanks to the ContractsProf Blog for a short note.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published this long obituary.)

The relative silence might be a puzzle, because John Murray was the very embodiment of teaching, in the classroom, among his colleagues, and in the public sphere.  (If only I could publish some of the email tributes now circulating on my school’s internal faculty list, and no doubt circulating elsewhere among law faculty who were mentored by John Murray early in their careers!)  Anyone who met or heard John Murray was struck immediately by the man’s presence, which was incredible and powerful and generous.

Perhaps the omission is not so much a puzzle; the latter part of his career was spent leading (and rebuilding) a regional Catholic university.  He was still a law teacher and scholar, but his major contributions to the law were years in the past.  He carried himself with enormous dignity, but he was not, by any means, a “modern” law professor or a name “brand” influencing the current generation of young teachers and scholars.

I teach a leadership course to members of my law school community, and I focus on leadership as voice:  understanding and sharing your sensibility, spirit, and presence in the world, how you cultivate that and share it so that you have the kind of impact and effect that you want to have.  I only met and heard John Murray in person a few times, for he was long gone from Pitt Law when I arrived.  But he had a wonderful voice, in the sense that I just described (he also had a tremendous speaking presence).  And all of Pittsburgh, its legal community, and the contracts and sales parts of the legal profession benefited mightily from it.  He will be missed.

Innovating Legal Education

A year ago, in late August 2013, I posted a brief bit about my hopes for the coming year from the standpoint of innovation in legal education.  (Here is the link.)  By design, I was somewhat melodramatic and apocalyptic about what needed to be done substantively, and (perhaps) not forthcoming enough, and too procedural, about what I was expecting at my own law school, having been charged with chairing a local task force on what should be done there.

I did promise an update regarding what the task force did.  So here I am again.

There is, unfortunately, not a lot of news that I can report.  Our task force worked hard over the last academic year, harder than many faculty committees in my experience, talking not only with faculty colleagues but also with current students, alumni, the law school’s staff, members of the bench and bar, and folks in legal tech and legal services industries.  We did what I suspect is being done at many other law schools:  We researched what’s happening at other law schools, in other countries, and in other genres of professional and undergraduate education.  We studied opportunities at our university and elsewhere in our region.  We assembled a long and pretty comprehensive report — not a strategic plan by name, but a strategic plan in many other respects — and delivered it to the Dean and the faculty.  It’s not ambitious enough by some measures and too ambitious by many others.  I wish that I should share it here, but it’s not my report to share.  We will see, as the coming year(s) unfold, whether and how our recommendations are adopted.  The task force was aware of the work of the ABA in the accreditation area, and some of our recommendations anticipated the recently-announced changes regarding experiential education and student learning outcomes.  So, at minimum, there will be developments on those fronts.

The general question is still on the table, only very incompletely answered:  Amid changes in the legal profession, changes in what’s now called the legal services industry, emergence and evolution of a multi-faceted legal tech industry, and concern among law school faculty, graduates, students, and prospective students regarding the adequacy, appropriateness, and affordability of legal education — what can and should any particular law school do?  What can and should any particular faculty member do?

If there are lessons here, they are reminders that change is hard, at a collective or institutional level, and change in academic institutions is especially hard.  It’s hard even if a group of committed faculty members want to see change, see an urgent need for change, and lay on the table a broad range of specific things to change.  Change in legal education can’t really be understood or approached without thinking carefully (and at the same time, creatively) about change in undergraduate education, and other professional education — domains that taught our task force a lot of good things — as well as change in the worlds of professional services.

My experience last year did motivate me  to move more aggressively in my own courses to make some changes that I had been thinking about for some time.  Small changes, to be sure, but first steps and all that.  This Fall, I’m teaching Contracts (resuming a course that I taught for years but gave up back in 2007) and Trademark Law.  I will not require that students purchase a casebook; the primary readings will be free for downloading (and printing, and editing, annotating, etc.).  There will be substantial amounts of graded writing during the semester (something that I’ve been doing for a while in my upper-level courses) and relatively little emphasis on end-of-semester final exams.  There will be an increased emphasis on mandatory group work.  I will continue my existing practice in upper-level courses of banning student electronics in the classroom, but I’ll extend that to my first-year class.  I’ve been talking with our career services staff about how to make explicit, for the benefit of current students, connections between how and what I teach and the skills and knowledge that our students need to have in order to succeed in the profession.  I’ve been spreading the word among my former students — our alumni — about these modest changes and about hopes for more, and where appropriate incorporating their feedback into my methods.  There is more on my plate than that, but for now, at least with respect to what goes on in my classrooms, that’s enough.

Perhaps in a year’s time, I’ll have more news.  Good luck to everyone on the start of the new academic year.