Legal Education’s Waterloo


“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

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


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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Key Competencies for Law Students and New Professionals: Comments via Video


Compentency-based education for professionals of all sorts is hot right now, and for good reasons. In a changing professional services environment, new professionals need every boost that they can get.

This Summer, there are at least three *free* competency-based webinar series about to get under way: the “Passport to Practice” series, the CLI Corporate Legal Leaders Summer Webinar Series, and the Legal Tech Essentials Program at Bucerius Law School.

The three programs have some interesting commonalities and intersections, in their offerings, in their organization, and in their ancestry. For practical purposes, those things are more easily seen by people who’ve been in these trenches or who’ve been watching them carefully. For example, the influence of the Institute for the Future of Law Practice and the (related) Legal Evolution team is pretty clear.

But for current students and recent graduates, it’s not so easy to tell whether and how the programs overlap, or don’t, and whether or not any of the programs is worth the time that it asks students to invest.

My law school, at the University of Pittsburgh, is pushing out information about all three programs to our students, and Pitt Law asked me to prepare some short videos to help explain what the programs are all about. As one might expect, in these hectic days the call came rather late in the proverbial day relative to the planned schedules of each program. But we do what we can.

I’m not a speaker or lecturer in any of the programs. I had nothing to do with organizing any of their contents. But I know something about the motivations and interests of the organizers, and I have my own takes on the contributions of each program and what students should expect.

I’m a big believer in competency-based educational models and a big believer in trying new things like these. Maybe Pitt Law students will listen to what I have to offer. I also figured: why not share the primitive fruits of my newly-acquired movie making skills? My three little videos are now up on YouTube, and they are embedded below. At about 10 to 15 minutes per video, consider each one a legal education amuse-bouche.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

In Our Hands: The Future of Law


The following was first published on Friday, May 9, 2020 in the “AALS News,” the newsletter of the Association of American Law Schools, under the section heading, “Faculty Perspectives: The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education.”

Faculty Perspectives is an ongoing series in which AALS presents authored opinion articles from law faculty on a variety of issues important to legal education and the legal profession. Opinions expressed here are not necessarily the opinions of the Association of American Law Schools. If you would like to contribute to Faculty Perspectives or would like to offer a response to the opinion published here, contact AALS.

The ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education: Changes and Plans

By Michael Madison, Professor of Law and John E. Murray Faculty Scholar, University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

To paraphrase something often attributed to Dwight Eisenhower: Plans are useless; planning is indispensable. Legal education specifically and higher education generally have survived and even thrived over the last century largely via path dependence and opportunism. We are confronted now by a crisis that likely will change everything about those worlds and more, for a long time to come and well beyond the impacts of immediate traumas. The time has come for planning, instead.

I received the email inviting me to write this column in mid-March, as all of us—schools, students, and communities—were in the early days of crisis adaptation. I’m writing in mid-April, as our initial sense of panic has receded slightly and as we start to confront the full contours of the challenges to come. Change at both large and small scales, already a necessity for legal systems and legal institutions, has taken on new salience and new urgency. Paraphrasing Malvolio in Twelfth Night, we are not born to change. We have not achieved change. We have change thrust upon us. We have been reacting. We now face a critical opportunity to plan.

Right now, many law faculty, like many throughout society, don’t have that opportunity. Instead, they are learning important but mostly improvised lessons about how we and our students can do what we do differently, and maybe even better. Right now, many of us are struggling. Our paths are bumpy at best. But in time, we can and should build on newfound flexibilities.

If we imagine choosing change rather than only responding to change, then we face broad, difficult, compelling questions: change what, change how, and change why? These questions are not new. The moment to start answering them is unexpectedly upon us. We may start with the better impacts of our new technology-enabled and distance-enforced practices, but we shouldn’t stop there. Improvisation reveals opportunity and exposes inadequacy. What do we want better and best to look like for law and legal education, and how do we get there from here?

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There, Wolf: Law, 10 Years After and 10 Years Forward


Almost ten years ago, I began writing occasionally about the future of legal education and the legal profession. Living and working in Pittsburgh, as I do, I was struck back then by possible parallels between the rise and demise of 20th century Steel, the American industry largely grown up in and centered on Pittsburgh’s enormous integrated steel mills, and the rise and threatened demise of the 20th century legal profession, largely grown up in and centered on large integrated law firms in downtowns around the country.

Now, looking ahead 10 more years, I’m still wrestling with the law/Steel parallel, partly because I’m still wrestling with how to engage constructively with changes in law as a key profession in our emerging new global order, and partly because I’m still wrestling with how to engage constructively with Pittsburgh as a key emblem and example of post-industrial America. These are change management challenges, among other things, of an exceptionally high and complex order.

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