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?