Sunday, April 1, 2012
It seems like the news focusing on legal education is rarely positive. It's not much better at the undergrad level, where very good books (Academically Adrift, Higher Education? Crisis on Campus) from well-respected researchers are focusing on the problems at the BA/BS level. Criticism of undergraduate education and legal education share some common themes: there are not enough jobs for graduates, graduates have no marketable skills, and what is taught is disconnected from what graduates need to know. At the law school level, ASP and LW focus on skills acquisition, and should be at the center of efforts to reform legal education. While ASP and LW scholars have come up with some great ideas for reforming legal education, we have not really discussed "disruptive" ideas that change the very concept of legal education. Undergraduate researchers have done a lot more thinking about wholesale change in the academy. Most of the changes and ideas are not going to be embraced in entirety, but they they can spur innovation that can lead positive changes to help students and graduates become more successful after they leave us.
One of the most fascinating ideas coming from the undergraduate reform movement centers around using mentors and doing away with the idea of traditional courses with a sage-on-the-stage professor. This type of university would blur the lines between professional and liberal arts education, and do away with disciplinary silos that exist only in the academy. With the growth of open access education or MOOC's, sage-on-the-stage teaching can be done economically over the web, as was done at Stanford when Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig taught an artificial intelligence course to over 100,000 students. Instead of traditional courses, students would work with mentors who could help guide their course selection and college experience. With a small peer group and a mentor, students could work together to solve real-world problems, using the knowledge they gain from MOOC's. Students gain skills when working with real-world problems in a safe, contained learning environment, and mentors can help guide students socially, intellectually, and professionally.
There are certainly challenges to implementing such large-scale changes to the current model of undergraduate education. It is wonderful that researchers and academics are looking to disrupt the current model--something that is not happening at the law school level. I am not dismissing some of the ideas that have come out of the legal academy that promise to improve legal education; there are some great ideas out there (see Robert Rhee and Bradley Borden's "The Law School Firm"). But legal education has had few truly "disruptive" thinkers. Disruptive thinking is scary and promises change, and law schools are notoriously risk-averse and conservative. Instead of fearing change, ASPer's can get out in front of it; think about how our skills can be used in novel and unconventional ways to solve the problems facing law schools. It means we may need to re-boot our thinking, and consider brand-new ways of delivering services.
Here are some things ASPer's can think about:
1) Law firms major complaint is that law school graduates are not practice-ready. Can ASP work with legal employers to teach skills to graduates? Law schools can start making guarantees to law firms: hire our grads, and if they don't have the skills, we will provide them to graduates for free, at the firm. This type of deal with law firms would benefit all parties: law firms would be acquiring less risk when hiring, law schools could get work with law firms so more students are employed, and law students could feel more secure about their employment options.
2) Shift students into "pods" that work on a real-world problem. Instead of a 3-hour exam at the end of the semester, each pod would be responsible for an entire portfolio that addresses the problem. Students would need to address the problem from the perspective of their core courses; they should be able to produce memos that discuss the contract implications of the problem, the constitutional challenges, and possible conflicts with property laws (zoning implications, etc.). ASPer's could play myriad roles; they can be the overall supervisor of a pod, they could float through each pod throughout the semester to check their progress, or they would be the resource for pods that were struggling. An additional benefit would be that ASP would not need to isolate struggling students; the ASPer could work with the entire pod to reinforce skills.
ASPer's need to start thinking about ways to leverage their skills and knowledge for a different type of legal education. If we don't act as change agents, we risk being lost in the changes. No one is going to speak for us but ourselves; we cannot rely on others to find a place for ASP. The fantastic thing about ASP is that we are collaborative, creative, and flexible. Let's use those skills to help address the problems in legal education from new and novel directions. Let's provide the ideas that "disrupt" legal education for the benefit of our students and the profession. (RCF)