Legal Education’s Waterloo: Urgency


In Legal Education’s Waterloo, I promised a longer comment on an excellent recent provocation in 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.

On Urgency

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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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#PittsburghsFutures: 1/x

“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.

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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: