Legal Education Begins Anew

Every year since I began teaching, I’ve been nagged by a sense that I was doing some wrong things in the classroom, but for some right reasons.  That sense accelerated over the last five years, to the point that I’ve mostly thrown over my own internal framing of what and how I teach.  As a few readers of this blog know, I’ve also externalized that framing in a series of manuscripts.  I posted a new one just the other day.  I’m taking this moment to collect all of these here in a single post, in a transparent attempt to increase their circulation.

In reverse chronological order, they are:

Preparing for Service: A Template for 21st Century Legal Education (unpublished)


Legal educators today grapple with the changing dynamics of legal employment markets; the evolution of technologies and business models driving changes to the legal profession; and the economics of operating – and attending – a law school. Accrediting organizations and practitioners pressure law schools to prepare new lawyers both to be ready to practice and to be ready for an ever-fluid career path. From the standpoint of law schools in general and any one law school in particular, constraints and limitations surround us. Adaptation through innovation is the order of the day.

How, when, and in what direction should innovation take place? Who should lead, guide, and participate? These are questions often asked in both legal education in particular and in higher education in general. Rarely are answers accompanied by specific examples, strategies, or programs. This paper offers precisely that specificity. It documents one institution’s process and output, beginning with the concept of innovation in the face of multiple challenges and proposing one set of concrete, actionable strategies, tactics, and programs. These range from school-wide interventions to ideas for use at the level of the individual faculty member and course.

The purpose of making the paper available is to note merely that if innovation is a hill to be climbed, then it can be climbed. The process and results may be more valuable if they are shared with others, even if the particular route documented here is not the only one available and may not the best for all times and places.

Innovators, Esq.: Training the Next Generation of Lawyer Social Entrepreneurs (published at 83 UMKC L. Rev. 967 (2015))


Today’s law school graduates need to be entrepreneurial to succeed, but traditional legal education tends to produce lawyers who are “strange bedfellows” with entrepreneurs. This article begins by examining the innovative programs at many law schools that ameliorate this tension, including the programs offered by our Innovation Practice Institute (IPI) at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. Although these programs train law students to represent entrepreneurs and to be entrepreneurial in law-related careers, few (if any) law schools train law students to be “business” entrepreneurs. Drawing on our own experiences and the writings of Bill Drayton, the lawyer who pioneered the field of social entrepreneurship, we discuss how some lawyers have applied their legal education to be successful “social” entrepreneurs. Finally, we outline the IPI’s three-year law school program explicitly designed to train law students to be social entrepreneurs.

Leading New Lawyers: Leadership and Legal Education (unpublished)


Lawyers may become leaders, but leaders also may become lawyers. The path to leadership can begin in law school. This short essay describes a leadership development course developed and implemented at a law school over the last four years.

Visions of the Future of (Legal) Education (unpublished)


One law professor takes a stab at imagining an ideal law school of the future and describing how to get there. The Essay spells out a specific possible vision, taking into account changes to the demand for legal services and changes to the economics and composition of the legal profession. That thought experiment leads to a series of observations about values and vision in legal education in general and about what it might take to move any vision forward.

There’s more:

Anyone interested in this topic or this material should read the stimulating exchanges in the mobblog on legal education that Deven Desai organized here in 2008.

I took some tentative further steps into deeper water in 2012, at the Faculty Lounge.


What’s Old is New Again, Legal Education Edition

“Law Students Leave Torts Behind (for a Bit) and Tackle Accounting” in the New York Times (@nytimes) is a jumbled but useful starting off point for this note about new and different modes of legal education.

The story, which describes a handful of new efforts to teach elementary accounting skills to law students, misses an opportunity to point out that (i) many law schools used to teaching Accounting, or Accounting for Lawyers, as a regular and even important part of their curriculum, but gave that up over the last 25 years or so as faculty recruitment and retention shifted to other things; that (ii) some law schools still teach the subject, and not in the “mini-course” or “short boot camp” format that the NYT describes.

The story then jumbles together newer programs like Brooklyn’s, that offer micro introductions to financial concepts, newer programs like CU-Boulder’s, that offer financial literacy training for law students as part of a longer and more deeply structured introduction to business practices for new lawyers, and programs that offer law students training in how businesses work (and how other organizations work) by embedding the students with the organization, via externships or otherwise. These approaches can be mixed and matched, but they represent three separate strategies, with different costs and benefits.

It’s also possible to argue that law schools shouldn’t be in this business at all, because “the real world” offers better and perhaps less pricey formats for this sort of training. Some large law firms offer it these days, though not all do.

My conceptual contribution to this topic is online at SSRN. Download another copy today, and share it!

My practical contribution (shameless promotion ahead) is the Innovation Practice Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, which weaves business literacy threads together in its own unusual way.  I explained the program yesterday to a colleague at a different law school:

[Our vision is growing] a new generation of SV-style flexible lawyers/legally-trained innovators, and entrepreneurs and to build that capacity across the [Pittsburgh] region not only for tech but for non-tech small business, not-for-profits, arts/culture/entertainment, and social enterprise.  So we’re not focused as much on helping clients; we’re focused more on growing a new legal culture. Programmatically, we work in partnership with a range of campus- and community-based enterprises (Pitt, CMU, and unaffiliated) to embed our students in teams with their peers in CS, engineering, business, and social enterprise/not-for-profits, where they learn about legal challenges and opportunities, give a bit of (supervised but non-confidential) legal guidance (entity formation, finance, IP, and employment law, mostly), and absorb the ethos of seeing how law and lawyers can enable economic development. Students from all disciplines are meant to “grow up together,” almost literally, and to see each other as partners (rather than as adversaries) from the beginning.  We also support law students as innovators/competitors in local business plan competitions.  We are piloting a leadership development classroom module, which I teach, which I hope will form the basis of a series of professional development courses organized along the lines of the program that Bill Mooz directs at CU-Boulder [the Tech Lawyer Accelerator], but without being focused on tech companies. And we offer weekly lunch-and-learn sessions with guests from the legal profession who have built careers doing unorthodox things in law, business, the nonprofit sector, government, and so on.

Underlying all of this is the sense that the classical or traditional model of the lawyer as a service professional working as a craftsperson for clients large and small is increasingly outdated, both in the sense that this is an ever-smaller portion of what most lawyers in private practice do, and in the sense that it is a fading model of employment and career development for our new graduates.  I don’t know what model will take its place (or, more likely, models – plural), but I want to do what I can to prepare my students in new ways so that they can succeed in whatever environment develops.

For more, read about the IPI at

Innovation and Experience in Legal Education

What’s the point of “experiential” legal education?  Anecdotes and a bit of data are surfacing. Note:

The same batch of messages that brought these to my attention also brought me a link to the upcoming ABA Techshow, which struck me as being enormously important to the future of lawyers but not much in the sights of the bulleted experiential legal education programs. Continue reading Innovation and Experience in Legal Education

The Future of Copyright: Teaching

IP law seems to be moving so quickly these days that figuring out how to teach it and what to teach is ever more challenging.  This month (December), I’m grading final Fall papers and preparing for Spring courses, and that means deciding — again — what to do with Copyright Law.

Last year a student comment made me pause in a way that student comments rarely do. Reviewing last Spring’s Copyright Law course, the student expressed satisfaction with the course as it was but disappointment that my work on knowledge commons had not been expressed in the course — even indirectly.

That comment motivated me to look under the hood of the course in a way that I had not done in a long time.

Changes in the works:

  • Reducing the coverage of the “traditional” principles and doctrines of copyright, focused on the exclusive rights of the copyright owner and limitations and exceptions thereto.
  • Expanding the coverage of problems associated with secondary liability and service provider liability.
  • Expanding discussion of “regulatory” copyright, meaning compulsory and statutory licenses and collecting societies.
  • Introducing discussion of comprehensive copyright reform. Congress is talking about it, the Copyright Office is talking about it, the American Law Institute is talking about it — so I’ll talk about it with our students.

All in all, the revisions are designed to capture more explicitly an “institutionalist” focus on this area of the law, meaning how the law interacts with formal and informal groups of various sorts, not just with individual authors or copyright owners or copyright users and re-users. That’s closely aligned with the theme of the knowledge commons work, even if “commons” stuff as such will make a cameo appearance at best.

Along the way, I am getting rid of the traditional casebook.  I’m in the middle of editing a package of cases, and for secondary material and context I will be using parts of the excellent Open Intellectual Property Casebook from the Duke Center on the Public Domain, via Jamie Boyle and Jennifer Jenkins, plus some stuff of my own devising.

And … because software copyright is much in the news these days, courtesy of Oracle and Cisco Systems, my writing assignments for the students (no exams in my IP courses – only client memos!) will all focus on that subject.

All in all, there is a fair amount of experimentation ahead.


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.