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Legal Education: The End

Legal education should have an end. This is it.

My last post in this series on law schools talked about shared values and about how shared values should drive a vision of a particular law school’s program. I identified one value that is particularly important to me — service — and promised more. I’ll wrap up that conversation and this series with this post.

A close friend of mine received an award recently, recognizing him for substantial contributions to public service going back over 35 years. He stepped into first major, global leadership role when he was a senior in high school. That’s an extraordinary thing. Here is something less extraordinary: My friend made a point in his acceptance speech not only of thanking a wide range of people who helped and influenced him but also of highlighting something that is directly relevant, I think, to the essence of my thinking about what I do as a law professor.

He said that he was blessed to have been shown when he was quite young how he could have an impact on other people. On the world around him.

If I reduce to a single proposition my thinking about what I do, what I wish to do, and what I wish my peers and colleagues would do — a single statement of values, a single statement that could inspire both us, and our students, our alumni, and the broader community — that proposition is this:

I want to show my students and teach my students how they can have an impact on other people. On the world around them. My job is to inspire my students so that they can inspire change — for the better, if possible — in others. For many years after I left law practice and started teaching law, I didn’t think of myself and my students in that way. I do now.

Different people can, will, and should, if they wish, translate such a high-level statement and put it into practice in different ways. “Inspiring students” means not only “giving” students knowledge and other tools, but also inspiring them to find and develop those tools for themselves. Substantive legal knowledge, skills, and competencies may be taught in a lot of different arrangements. What is different in those arrangements should not obscure what I think should be shared. My own sense of the current stresses about legal education — economic stresses about its cost and the returns, cultural stresses about its value and importance — is that those stresses owe their origins in large part to the absence of a collective understanding about the values that bind us together. Choose my value; choose some other value. What really matters, as it were, isn’t just the raw economics of the thing; what really matters is why we’re doing what we’re doing.

From the start, I’ve been writing about my own vision of the world. Follow the links below to see how I would put my vision into practice.

In my view, this is the end. Comments of all sorts are welcome.

[This is part of a five-post series. In all, the posts are:

Next: back to this blog’s regularly scheduled information law and theory programming.