a sandbox for legal education

I recently attended a by-invitation-only conclave convened to explore the future of legal services, from a global perspective. In the room? Legal educators, law company c-suite folks, operations counsel from global technology companies, leaders of legal for the Big 4, members of the current ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education. An interesting mix of people, certainly.

Attendees were asked to contribute a short paper on one of three topics. Not surprisingly, I chose the topic “design principles for law school curricula in the light of future developments in the market for legal services.”

Here is what I submitted:

The very existence of this second Conference on the Future of Legal Services affirms that the legal profession rests on shifting sands. Accordingly, I will forgo a belabored review of what is changing, and by how much, and why. And I will simply point out that what lawyers do and how we do it looks very different today than it did when my grandfather entered the practice in the 1940s, and when my father entered the practice in the 1960s, and even when I entered the practice in the 1990s. The pace of this change is not going to slow, and most likely will continue to hasten.

If we accept this as true, then what is the import for legal education? For surely, if what lawyers do and how we do it is changing, then how we educate and train new lawyers should change. Many people have been discussing this for quite a while. Consider Thomas D. Morgan’s proposal that the ABA’s law school reform efforts in 2011 “must necessarily begin — at least implicitly — with the question of what kind of people law schools are charged with producing.”[1] This question remains at the heart of any inquiry into legal education.

I recently joined the working group for the Delta Competency Model[2], which seeks to describe the core competencies required to be a successful modern legal practitioner: this is the kind of person law schools are charged to produce. Comprised of three primary competency areas — the law, personal effectiveness, and business and operations — the model offers an agile and dynamic framework for describing the skills and characteristics today and tomorrow’s lawyers — and legal professionals generally — need to thrive.

My proposal is simple: we need a new flavor of legal education with a curriculum designed to teach these competencies. This must happen in the immediate future, and it must be a path to both a legal practice (as a licensed lawyer) as well as positions that do not necessarily require bar passage and licensure, such as legal operations engineer, legal designer, legal process architect, and many more positions that will be needed and do not yet exist.

How do we do this? This also is very simple: the ABA creates a sandbox for designing and testing new flavors of accredited legal education, to include curricular content aligned with modern competencies (e.g. the Delta Model) and delivered using modern pedagogical best practices, including methods based in learning science and integrating advanced technology. All at a cost to law students that does not unduly burden them financially and therefore limit (or dictate) their reasonable employment options post-graduation.

Our obligations to uphold the rule of law and provide access to justice are too great for us to continue with our heads buried in these shifting sands. I’m a 5th-generation lawyer practicing for 20+ years. And I will leave legal education and the profession completely before I stand idly by and bear witness to our continued collective hubris. The time is now.

-CM


[1] Thomas D. Morgan, The Changing Face of Legal Education: Its Impact on What It Means to Be a Lawyer, 45 Akron L. Rev. 811, 811 (2011).

[2] The Delta Competency Model: see https://www.alysoncarrel.com/delta-competency-model


as opportunities expand, are law students ready?

And are law schools ready?

I receive queries often from employers who seek legal professionals with training and experience in areas that law schools are not offering (or, not offering in a meaningful and comprehensive way). So students are graduating without this exposure. And often going into law firms that do not offer this exposure.

Queries seeking to fill positions like Legal Process Innovation Architect, for example:

Where does one get exposure to and experience with these competencies? (This is not a rhetorical question.) 

This is happening as I engage in the Delta Lawyer Model of competency working group. We’re seeking to identify core competencies required by a modern legal professional.

The Delta Model identifies the range of competencies that appear in this job description—a range much broader than what is offered by a traditional legal education (which happens to be the only flavor available). While the company that drafted this description has no knowledge of the model, this is not happenstance. The world is moving rapidly in the direction of requiring these competencies. (n.b.: This truth is being affirmed over and over as we test and refine the model across the spectrum of legal employers.)

How rapidly are legal educators moving? 

-CM

the care and feeding of law students: part 1 (of many)

Most people go to law school with the intention of practicing law. This most often means getting a job in a law firm, government agency, or other organization that requires the skills and training (and ultimately the licensure) that law school provides.

So why don’t we treat law students like the professionals they are? Law school is a professional school. We are training professionals.

For the most part, traditional legal pedagogy imparts few “soft” professional skills. A few courses may here and there, and of course, clinics generally do. But access to these opportunities is very limited.

Many law students exit law school with NO experience working in a collaborative way. Few have been exposed to best practices in professionalism. Most are treated like . . . students. Not as professionals. The difference is distinct.

We’re not training students. We are training lawyers. How do we do this? It should include at least some exposure to professional skills and the opportunity to practice them, beyond an ethics course.

(Not that I think most ethics courses impart professional skills, but I expect someone to point to ethics in the curriculum and say, “But we do!” No. We do not.)

We can keep the Socratic method. AND we can do more, and do better, to prepare students for the real world of lawyering*.

*Or whatever they go do, because the skills we teach in law school transect roles and industries.

-CM

this is not rocket science.

Photo by John Baker on Unsplash

It is so obvious that stating it feels unnecessary. This is not rocket science.

But it is. Necessary to state that law schools should take the lead in educating lawyers about technology. To be bold, and go where no one has gone before.

We have a fuzzy comment to an ethics rule adopted by most states. And really whether the comment has been adopted should be irrelevant. How can anyone take the position that technology is irrelevant to the competent practice of law today?

Law schools stand in the unique position to help design standards for technology competence and to deliver meaningful learning experiences to lawyers-in-training, who will go out into the world to be more competent, effective lawyers.

I have many thoughts on the design of such standards, and many of the thoughts center on agility and continuous evolution and accessibility. 

We need lots of thoughts to be shared. And then meaningful action.

Who’s in?

I have some questions.

It started with this tweet.

Some more questions:

How might we decide what 21st century lawyers need to learn?

How might we design and deliver a curriculum that reflects what we learned from the above query?

How might we prepare 21st century law students for a bar exam?

How might we connect the silos of bar examination with legal education?

Should there be a bar exam? If not, then what?

How might we prepare 21st century law students for a meaningful, productive career that does not include getting barred or engaging in the “traditional” practice of law? If we decide this is a valid mission?

How might we create a meaningful conversation on these and many other important questions about legal education, that leads to proactive innovation (change that creates value for stakeholders) rather than reactive choices that do not create value?

What else?

-CM

silos: part 1 (of many)

Silos.

Not only law’s problem. But also law’s problem.

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.

And, not either/or.

-CM

we need more flavors.

Law schools follow a fairly singular (and grossly-expensive-to-deliver) curriculum thanks to ABA accreditation, which accordingly produces a fairly singular kind of lawyer.

This is completely inconsistent with the world in which we find ourselves.

We need more flavors of legal education. We need different kinds of lawyers. We need different kinds of roles that operate within the legal system to bring access and justice to more people.

We need a redesign. Not to replace what we have, but to vastly expand and complement it.

-CM