December 21, 2010
Stanford Law Launching Major Study of the Legal Profession: Too Late for the ABA's Current Review of Accreditation Standards
Stanford Law School recently announced that it has launched a comprehensive empirical study of the state of the legal profession supported by financial support from the Sidley Austin Foundation. Excerpts the press release:
The objective of the multi-year study is to describe and understand the state of the profession, including trends and emerging developments. The study will seek to develop policy recommendations to help law firms adapt their business models to better meet the needs of their clients and of a rapidly changing legal market. It will also consider the implications of these changes for legal education. ... The Study of the Legal Profession is part of Stanford Law School’s ongoing efforts to transform legal education to meet the evolving demands of a 21st century legal practice.
Research for the Stanford Law School Study of the Legal Profession will focus first on gathering data to draw an accurate portrait of the new industrial organization of the legal profession for the purpose of analyzing the evolving structure and organization of firms, the effects of globalization and global competition, and the consequences and opportunities created by new technology, new forms of firm management, billing structures, employee training, changes in firm/client relations, and more. With this more accurate and comprehensive understanding of the state of the profession, the research will move in the next phase to identify problems and recommend solutions.
The study will be conducted over the next three to five years through the school’s Center on the Legal Profession. It will be a collective effort, drawing upon the resources of the Stanford Law faculty, the Stanford Law alumni network, faculty from economics and the Graduate School of Business, and a broad spectrum of practicing lawyers, including managing partners and in-house counsel.
Too Late to Inform ABA Accreditation Standard Review Activities? Ah ... about time for this study. Will the on-going ABA Accreditation Standards Committee review work use this as a justification for holding off on making substantial changes? Perhaps. It certainly sounds like a very timely and convenient reason to do so (NB: absolutely no implication that the announced Stanford's study is intented for this reason; the research project is needed "in and of itself" to borrow from Hegel and, hopefully, will provide useful, accurate data for all concerned).
The ABA Accreditation Standards Committee reviewing process has been criticized for being overly influenced by the cliquish American Law Deans Association at the expense of others, including members of the bench, bar and legal academy stakeholders who have been offering some damn good suggestions, see LLB's post, CLEA Criticizes ABA Accreditation's Standards Review Committee for "Shallow Engagement" With Stakeholders Other Than Law School Deans. As mentioned in a previous LLB post, I have little hope for substantial law school curriculum reform unless the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States chairs a blue-ribbon commission intent on structurally reforming legal education. See Why Can't Johnny Research Practice Law? The legal education system has broken the Social Contract. Well, perhaps Plan B will be some sort of blue-ribbon commission after the results of the Stanford Law finding are published in the "next three to five years."
There is a historical cyclicality to these reform movements that in the past has resulted in producing the absolutely most minimal nominal changes in the entrenched legal academy in response to the "hue-and-cry" from those outside the cosy confines of university campuses -- that would be the "consumers" of the legal academy's "output" -- graduates utterly unqualified to practice law. In the 21st Century "new normal," shifting the burden to employers for training these debt-laded newbie attorneys is an "old normal" practice that isn't likely to return. [JH]