January 16, 2012
"While legal academia dithers over reform, the profession may be passing them by"
The title of this post is the sub-heading of this new piece in The National Law Journal, which carries the main headline "What is law school for, anyway?". The piece is a must-read for all would-be law school innovators, and here are excerpts:
The state of the profession has not traditionally been a focus of law professors, said George Washington University Law School professor Thomas Morgan, author of the book The Vanishing American Lawyer. That remained true until about one year ago, when more people within the academy started taking note of the rumblings within the profession, he said. "We need to try and bridge what is a mutual set of problems," Morgan said.
Still, there remains a gap between the magnitude of change advocated by some within the profession and the modest innovations law schools are pursuing. Those innovations include a wider array of clinics, harnessing technology in simulations and student projects, and teaching transactional lawyering skills.
"I think they are rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic," said Susan Hackett, chief executive officer of consulting firm Legal Executive Leadership and former general counsel of the Association of Corporate Counsel. "The discussion seems to be, 'Let's add a Thursday evening extra-credit course on the legal profession that meets for a couple of hours.' That's just tweaking around the edges."
Instead, Hackett suggested a re-engineering of law curricula to include an initial phase of core courses followed by a year of executive education-style classes covering topics including business skills, legal technology and behavioral management. The final phase would involve clinics or externships in law firms, legal departments, government agencies or nonprofit organizations. These could replace the traditional law firm summer associateships and would be more substantive, she said.
Missing in the conversation was any focus on what skills corporate clients actually want in their lawyers, Hackett said, such as the ability to solve problems and understand financial statements. "I truly think there are a significant number of people in legal education who think that what a client wants is irrelevant," she said. "They just want to teach the law."
Others warned that framing the discussion solely in terms of what large law firms and corporate clients want ignores that the vast majority of law school graduates don't work in so-called Big Law, but rather in small firms, solo practice, government or nonprofits — or even as nonlawyers. Identifying exactly what skills and knowledge students should take away from law school is more complicated than critics suggest, said University of Richmond School of Law Dean Wendy Perdue and Northeastern University School of Law Dean Emily Spieler.
Posted by DAB
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