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?
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.
“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:
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.
“PittsburghsFutures” programming interrupts “Future Law” programming here from time to time.
I’m motivated to do that in part by increasingly urgent questions about the future of cities, with Pittsburgh as prime and local example number one (an interest that goes back at least to 2004, via Pittsblog, and continues very recently in the Tribune Review). Pittsburgh legacy leaders’ endless obsession with making Pittsburgh important again drives me bonkers.
I am all but certain that it irritates Pittsburgh’s emerging next generation leaders no end. Pittsburgh needs to bring different stories, different leadership, and different visions to the fore. “Let’s be as good as we were before” fails as a vision before it takes a single step; “let’s be ambitious and prosperous relative to reality” at least has a chance of success. Still, that’s pretty broad and vague. What does it look like in practice?
I’m also motivated in part by the same questions that drive the “Future Law” material. Legal systems, like cities, are in many ways systems that enable different and diverse groups of people to get along, even thrive, both despite their differences and also because of them. Law, like the city, is a platform. Of a sort. We can’t afford to take for granted either the fact that it exists or the dynamics of how it succeeds, fails, and changes. Again, vagueness. What do we imagine, in practice?
I read Democracy in America many decades ago, and I’m still working through how to translate its themes to modern living. What seemed to work during the 20th century (now speaking both about cities and also about legal systems, the legal profession, and law schools) may not be primed for success, on the same terms and in the same ways, in the next several decades.