Legal education is a silo. One that is, for the most part, divorced from the work required of lawyers (and others) to meet the needs of real people requiring real help to navigate an increasingly complex set of legal systems.
As long as the primary job of (most) law professors is to produce research and write to support tenure and institutional rankings, this will not change.
We need more people in law schools doing more, and different, work to teach and train new lawyers. To reach out of the silo and connect with others, in the real world.
Consider for a moment how change can impact law schools.
In one scenario law schools, alert to the transformations sweeping both higher education and legal practice, adroitly position themselves to embrace controlled, necessary changes. Such schools transform from within and with intention. Planned strategic transitions are less chaotic and build excitement and energy. In this scenario law schools lead change by embracing new legal trends and demands.
In a different scenario law schools, comforted by the status quo and tradition, entrench themselves in time honored (and ABA approved!) models of legal education. As the legal market shifts, legal careers transform and change is forced upon these law schools by circumstances of poor graduate job placement, high student debt and/or decreasing enrollment. Outside forces will shape these law schools’ path forward and the changes they must make are likely to be chaotic. Disruptive forces position such schools to react rather than lead in the face of change.
Most law schools have the opportunity to choose and shape change for now. Tick-tock.
1 – The cost of legal education maintains — if not dictates, at least in part — the astronomic cost of providing legal services. New lawyers, heavily indebted, cannot afford to do the work that most needs to be done.
2 – Even if every newly-minted lawyer went straight into service of the estimated 80% of people who need legal help but don’t get it, we lawyers still wouldn’t be enough. The need is greater than the guild.
The one way we’re doing legal education, alone, doesn’t work. Lawyers, alone, are not enough.