Monday, September 1, 2014
I began my twenty-ninth year of law school teaching this week. It has now been thirty-six years since I entered law school as a student. Except for four years of practice, I have been there ever since.
The world has changed significantly, but legal education hasn't changed much.
When I entered law school in 1978,
- the Internet was still unknown to the general public, a concept that scientists and the government were still developing.
- The personal computer was just beginning to take off, and no one I knew had one.
- Laptops were where your child sat.
- Lexis computerized research was just beginning.
- PowerPoint presentations did not exist.
- You bought your telephone, securely connected to your wall, from Ma Bell.
It’s amazing, given all the changes since then, how little has changed in legal education.
When I began law school, grades were determined primarily by a single end-of-semester exam. In most cases, they still are.
When I began law school, the focus was on the development of analytical skills, and clinical education was secondary. Not much change there (yet).
When I began law school, professors were using chalk and blackboards. They’re now using whiteboards and PowerPoint slides, but primarily just to display what they used to write on the blackboard.
When I began law school, students were required to purchase expensive textbooks consisting primarily of edited cases and questions. The textbook market was dominated by West, Foundation Press, and Little Brown. The publishers’ names have changed, but not much else.
When I began law school, law firms were practically begging students to take jobs, and summer clerkships were one long summer camp, filled with fine dining and entertainment and minimal work expectations. Well, I guess some things have changed.
Can you imagine if the rest of the world changed at the same pace as legal education? You would be spending your evenings watching TV programs on the three networks. You would have to be home to take a phone call—and, if you needed to talk to someone outside your town, it would cost you a fortune. If you needed information, you could drive to the library.
If legal education were a phone company, we’d all have landlines and we’d be debating whether to change to a Princess.