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Innovation and Experience in Legal Education

What’s the point of “experiential” legal education?  Anecdotes and a bit of data are surfacing. Note:

The same batch of messages that brought these to my attention also brought me a link to the upcoming ABA Techshow, which struck me as being enormously important to the future of lawyers but not much in the sights of the bulleted experiential legal education programs.

When I try to keep track of the shifting demand for legal services and the purposes of innovation in legal education, I talk to both practicing lawyers (large firm, small firm, small office, non-private sector) and to clients (large company, small company, new company, non-company). Both groups agree that clients are shaping demand for legal services to an ever-increasing degree and that client demand is shaping demand for new lawyers. (I write “shaping” because demand isn’t just a “more” or “less” function.) And both groups agree: “classic” or “traditional” legal skills (how to draft a complaint or a will, or draft a brief or an estate plan, or how to interview a client or how to take a deposition), modeled on a standardized image of who a lawyer is and what a lawyer does, are no more important to new graduates then a range of other things: leadership skills, project management skills, collaboration skills, emotional intelligence, technology skills, and a host of other things that most law schools teach poorly or not at all.

Why?  Because both inside traditional legal services organizations and outside of them, much of what lawyers are required to do is diversifying, and diversifying rapidly. That includes not only the fact that individual lawyers are expected to have a diverse range of skills, but also the fact of the increasing diversity of employment and career outcomes for new law graduates.

I take away two things.  Two sets of questions, really:

One:  In law schools’ rush to build innovative and “experiential” learning opportunities for law students and new lawyers, are those programs focused on the right collection of client needs?  Even if there remains a useful standardized image of a lawyer that should guide training of new lawyers, so that a standardized educational model still makes sense, are these new programs organized effectively?  A growing number of law schools are bringing incubators to their students and new graduates. How many are bringing the equivalent of Techshow to their students and new graduates?

Two:  The cluster of non-practical skills topics above is, on the whole, far less likely to be modeled on a standardized image of a lawyer than is either traditional legal education (large classes in standard doctrinal subjects taught by a single Master) or late 20th century legal education, in which the traditional mode is extended by clinics, incubators, and the like.  Teaching even “ordinary law” based on a standardized image of a lawyer, makes less and less sense as a comprehensive definition of a law school program.  And leadership development, project management, and emotional intelligence really difficult to teach to seas of people. All of these work much better on small scales. Legal education, like higher education in general, has been premised mostly on a “sorting” model of student outcomes.  Like higher education in general, how can legal education move to a “student success” model?