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

Experiential Learning with a Twist

Every year I take my legal technology students for a brief one day trip to NYC to a Legal Tech conference. Initially, when my colleague Oliver Goodenough conceived the idea, the trip was intended to broaden career horizons, offer a taste of modern law practice, and provided hands-on professional learning opportunities in an immersive fast-paced conference environment. 

In 2009-2010 when we made our initial trip with students, legal practice was feeling strong impacts from the 2008 financial crisis and the common perception of career prospects for soon-to-be graduates was grim.  The frenetic pace of the LegalTech show inspired our students and gave them hope about alternatives to traditional J.D. jobs – not to mention allowed them an opportunity to hear talks by judges from the cases they read.  Two students found future employment and one student found an internship from connections made that day.  Three from a group of ten found work in that legal career climate – we were pleased and impressed.

Fast forward to today as I prepare to take my students to what is now called Legal Week in NYC.  When talking to law students about careers, one of the challenges is expanding their preconceived notions of the possible.  For some of the students there is the possibility to blend their past career/learning with their J.D. to provide distinct and interesting future possibilities.  Take one of my students this year.  He’s a former high school math teacher with a fondness for conversations about AI, machine learning and data science.  In one day at this conference he will experience the myriad of ways his skills can be blended into a future legal career.  My prediction?  It will change his career trajectory – now or in five years.

While I enjoy taking students for this day in NYC – delight in watching their shock and awe at all the wild possibilities – I want to bring this expansive experience back to our law school, all law schools.  How do we challenge students’ preconceived notions of career possibilities from the comforts of the legal ivory tower (ivory silo)?  How do we bring experiences like this to all law students? It’s critical to moving the legal profession forward.

~JmE

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?

Law + Technology

By guest blogger Alyson Carrel.

Technology is a major driver to innovation in the law and legal services. Although it isn’t the only driver of change, advancing technology has demonstrated a crucial need to reconsider how and what we teach in law schools. In describing this need, articles talk about teaching at the intersection of law & technology, but what does that mean? This overarching phrase, teaching at the intersection of law & technology, implies many different things; here are just five of the different meanings implied:

The law of technology: How is traditional doctrine applied to advances in technology and how might the law need to change in order to adapt to or shape the future stemming from technological changes?

The technology of law: How is technology changing the delivery of legal services and what ethical responsibilities does this impact?

Innovation: How is innovation, often, but not always driven by advancing technology, changing client expectations?

Tech fluency: What technological skills do law students need in order to successfully enter the changing legal service delivery environment?

Instructional Technology: How can educators utilize technology to better engage students and enhance student learning?

I find that the use of this overarching phrase creates confusion and unnecessary challenges to our many efforts of redesigning and modernizing legal education. Although we need colleagues to understand the multiplicity of issues facing the future of law and legal education — and there are many — we need to be more precise in what changes we seek in order to more effectively engage our audience.

Each faculty member wears a lens through which they perceive legal education reform. Some focus on pedagogy, some on doctrine. Unfortunately, the many meanings of the phrase intersection of law & technology may lose meaning if they perceive it through the wrong lens.

For instance, a doctrinal faculty member who views legal education through a research lens, may dismiss a workshop discussing the impact of technology on a substantive area of the law because the event was billed as a talk on the intersection of law & technology, which the faculty assumed meant the use of technology as a legal operations tool.

Or a faculty member who teaches skills courses or clinics and views legal education through an experiential lens might miss a session on how to use technology to enhance lawyer’s skills in providing client services because they assumed the session was about instructional technology.

The phrase intersection of law & technology is not inherently problematic, it is in fact a great phrase to mean all things related to law and technology. But when we are trying to persuade skeptical colleagues to heed our warning that legal education must adapt to the changing marketplace, we must communicate with more specificity so that they can hear us through whatever lens they wear.

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

Social Insects and the Legal Academy

By guest blogger Marc Lauritsen.

Norbert Wiener’s The Human Use of Human Beings (1950) delivers an astonishingly brilliant batch of essays from the early Information Age. One of the 20th century’s few true ‘Renaissance men’ — and the father of cybernetics — he highlighted both the liberating potentials of digital technology and the catastrophic dangers of military industrialism via a mélange of insights from science, technology, art, and history. One is gratified to see references to game theory and Benoit Mandelbrot alongside discussions of Newton, Leibnitz, and Clerk Maxwell. There are many delicious bon mots.

What does Wiener have to say about law?  Quite a bit in one short chapter, and scattered elsewhere.  One example: “Not even the greatest human decency and liberalism will, in itself, assure a fair and administrable legal code. Besides the general principles of justice, the law must be so clear and reproducible that the individual citizen can assess his [sic] rights and duties in advance, even when they appear to conflict with those of others.”

What might he say about contemporary legal education?  Perhaps that it is more like a static colony of ants than a thriving learning community dedicated to unleashing progress in matters of justice and legal wellness.

An Ugly Stepchild in Law Schools?

Yes, in many law schools there are whispers (or loud proclamations) by law school faculty and administrators that when students don’t opt to use their J.D. to practice traditional law – and sit for the bar exam – it’s because they can’t/couldn’t cut-it in law school.

Popular conceit holds that law school is for a single purpose: professional training for the barred practice of law. Law schools (and their requirements and curriculums) have a bias against students who choose distinctive career paths and decide not to sit for a bar exam. Students who find a different purpose for their J.D. are often viewed as less intelligent law students (untrue). J.D.s who do not sit for the bar are viewed as failures (they are definitely not!).

Is advice to not take the bar given to students as an equal alternative career choice or the path to salvage something from their J.D.? This myth of “lesser” careers is perpetuated by the divisive distinction between “J.D. required” and “J.D. preferred” jobs that occurs for law school ranking and accreditation purposes. It’s a vicious circle of negative reinforcement that curtails innovation and growth in law schools.

It’s time to recognize not just the equality of J.D. students who choose not to follow a traditional barred career path, but their importance to the success of law schools in the future. As we look to the impact of technology and innovation in the legal industry – whether alternative dispute resolution or legal AI – they have the right idea. The legal industry is growing – the traditional role of the attorney is shrinking. Law schools that wish to remain relevant must address this change in both their curriculum and most importantly their treatment of the non-traditional career paths taken by some of their J.D. students.

If we can’t allow room within our curriculums for non-traditional career paths with a J.D. – perhaps we need an ALT JD?

~JmE

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

Flavors of Law School Change

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.

~JmE

2 problems.

Here are two problems we need to solve:

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.

-CM