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Renaissance Education

In reading the posts in this mobblog one thing comes through: right now many factors push on law and legal education. One could say the game is over. One could say stay the course. One could say radical change is required. Whether such positions are accurate or apply to all depends on the facts. Nonetheless, it seems that an underlying theme emerges from these posts: law may be able to stake a claim as renaissance education or it may fall into disrepair or irrelevancy.

Lawyers and law schools with their blend of theory, practice, and rigor allow for the creation of a rather impressive person, one who can dance in the realm of legal doctrine and bring insight to disciplines outside the law. Attorneys are trained to gather facts, reflect, analyze, and argue for a solution. As Jim Chen notes “we train people to become lawyers or to leverage their legal training into gainful employment in business, government, or education. Our students represent our ultimate product; their accomplishments, our greatest pride.”

Put differently law schools may be at a point where the value offered is the training in the law and the ability to fulfill the idea that a law degree is useful in many fields. To achieve this goal, law schools may need to reconfigure the curriculum. We will have to keep the theory as a foundation, but we may need to expand the ways in which teaching and training occurs. As law continues to permeate almost every professional endeavor, the law degree may distinguish one as having the ability to analyze a problem with rigor and strategic insight better than most, to use language better than most in oral, written, and visual contexts, and then to provide and communicate a solution based on multiple inputs including facts, theory, and different stakeholder views. This potential does not suggest that the ability to practice law will not be a core goal.

Rather insofar as the practice of law is shifting and the nature of what is valuable as a professional evolves, law schools may be best placed to produce people who can succeed in the many practices of law and whose training has value outside of pure practice areas. For those who have the potential for excellence if not iconoclastic, disruptive, even radical moves, start from a solid foundation. That foundation has three parts: mastery of the fundamentals of the field and the ability to see where the field may allow for or demand change and a system that provides the opportunity to implement change. There is no guarantee here. No one hands over the result. Rather all the factors must set up the possibility for success.

In short, law schools and the law degree may come to represent a renaissance institution and person: a place where or person who excels in a field and has the ability to work within other fields at a high level.

So law schools face difficult questions right now. As economic factors shift and the value we offer shifts, some will say our moment has past, some will try to hold onto old models, some will say change everything. The right answer will not flow from a simple formula. The most we can do is strive to keep the potential for our ability to reinvent law school alive. That potential requires ensuring that lawyers have the educational foundations they need as society evolves. It demands that legal education recognize that claims of an exact path or an ability to predict the future are suspect. Paths must be open. The system should not squash the ability of law schools to engage in disruptive experiments. Indeed, rather than ranking-driven and other herd-like moves, the norms should shift to allow recognition and reward for innovation and excellence as it pertains to the many different schools and their constituents.

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