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March 12, 2012
Welcome to the Blogosphere, The Legal Whiteboard
Rare indeed do I agree to launch a new blog on our Law Professor Blogs Network these days. This is a fairly mature medium now. The law blogosphere is very crowded. So crowded by good and bad traditional legal news publisher blogs that it has become increasingly difficult for independent voices to be heard for years now. One has to wonder, for example, if one of the most, more likely the most, frequently visited law prof blog that publishes posts of substance, the Volokh Conspiracy, would garner the audience it has today if it was launched in the last couple of years instead of being launched way back in 2002.
To fill a large hole in legal skills education blogging, we launched Legal Skills Prof Blog in Oct. 2010. Since then we have launched only one new blog. On Jan. 23, 2012, the Law Professor Blogs Network launched The Legal Whiteboard by Bill Henderson (Indiana Univ. Bloomington) and Andy Morriss (Alabama). The Legal Whiteboard focuses on trends, facts and ideas on law and legal education generally. Each wrote an "about this blog" post at launch: Bill's is here and Andy's is here. Recently, Jeff Lipshaw (Suffolk) joined them.
Focusing on the interplay between legal education and the practice of law in these changing times, The Legal Whiteboard offers commentary and analysis. For example, Bill Henderson recently posted "Too Good for BigLaw": The Statistician Edition in response to Vivia Chen's Too Good for Big Law article on The Careerist about the NLJ 250 Law School Hiring Survey. He closes his post with the following:
Perhaps it is time we focused on the skills and attributes of successful law graduates rather than the name of the law school on their diplomas. Law professors as a group are more alike than different. Does anyone really believe that classes at an elite law school are much different -- let alone better -- than the instruction received at 100 regional law schools taught by professors from elite law schools?
I think law schools can have a huge impact on the lives of students, but that is a strategy that remains largely untapped. And a topic for a future post.
Other very interesting posts include Andy Morriss' comments on Baltimore law prof Richard Bourne's The Coming Crash in Legal Education: How We Got Here, and Where We Go Now [SSRN] here. Meanwhile Bill Henderson uses Deputy Staff Director of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and Georgetown Law adjunct law prof Brent E. Newton's recent The Ninety-Five Theses: Systemic Reforms in the American Legal Education and Licensure [SSRN] and other "adjunct-practitioner who has forcefully challenged U.S. legal education" as a springboard for his own commentary on the topic of legal education reform generally here.
Prior to the launch of The Legal Whiteboard, I would have posted something about each SSRN paper on LLB but I think Bill Henderson, Andy Morriss and Jeff Lipshaw are much better at analyzing and commenting on these topics. The blog now has a sufficient number of posts for readers interested in the intersection of law practice and legal education to decide for themselves if they want to take The Legal Whiteboard's RSS feed. Clearly, the issues extend well beyond the legal academy. They has consequences that may impact all law librarians in my opinion.
As for the above cited papers, here's each paper's SSRN link and abstract. Like The Legal Whiteboard, both are highly recommended. [JH]
This paper will first track the ways in which the legal services market has grown and changed over the past forty years. It will then track the major changes that have attended legal education during the same period and the increasing dependence of the legal education industry on student debt. The paper will then explore why, at long last, the boom-times may have run their course and why, at some point, painful changes will likely occur. Though they cannot be described in detail, the author will attempt to outline the likely nature of the changes that will occur. Finally, the paper will briefly explore how the predicted reckoning may yet lead to an improvement in the marketing of legal services and an enhanced role for law schools in preparing new attorneys for the new bar they will be joining.
Knowledgeable and respected authorities inside and outside the legal academy are correctly describing the American system of legal education as being in a state of “crisis” and in need of dramatic reforms. Yet most members of the legal academy refuse to accept that major structural reforms are necessary. Despite the academy’s intransigence, I feel compelled to nail my 95 theses to the academy’s door in the hope of hastening, however slightly, its glacial movement towards meaningful reform. The theses comprise six major themes, the first five concerning the legal academy and the sixth concerning the legal profession itself: (1) defects in the law school admissions process; (2) structural problems resulting from the excessive number of law schools, the ABA accreditation process, the current manner of law school faculty governance, and the current system of ranking law schools; (3) defects in law schools’ curricula, pedagogical methods, and assessments of students; (4) deficiencies in the professoriate at law schools; (5) problems related to legal scholarship and law reviews; and (6) flaws in the bar exam and licensure process and also in the process of graduates’ transition from law school to the job market. Most of the problems are interrelated and result in a negative synergy that increasingly threatens the health of the legal profession. As a result, the only way to effect meaningful change likely to persist is to implement systemic reform – root to branch.
Every major decision made by a law school should reflect a genuine fiduciary commitment to their students – with the ultimate goal of producing graduates who will be competent, ethical entry-level attorneys, that is, graduates who are “practice ready.” They should hire faculty members; design curricula and pedagogies; and admit and assess students with the primary goal of producing attorneys who can hit the ground running upon graduation. Law professors should make legal scholarship secondary to their teaching duties, and their scholarship should be relevant to the bench, bar, and legal policy-makers. Law schools also need to charge a fair amount of tuition in view of the quality of the legal education that they provide to students and expect students to carry reasonable amount of debt in relation to their job prospects. Finally, state licensing authorities should require law school graduates to demonstrate the broad range of competencies needed to be an effective entry-level practitioner before licenses are issued.
With these aspirations for the legal academy and legal profession in mind, I contend that that many structural changes in the current system of legal education are necessary – beginning with the manner that schools admit law students, continuing with the manner they teach and assess them during law school, and concluding with the manner in which law school graduates are admitted to the bar. Some proposed reforms look to effective practices in American medical schools and business schools as models. For most of the reforms to occur, law schools must engage in paradigm shifts in several areas in addition to modernizing their curricula and pedagogies – they must alter the composition of their faculties, their approach to legal scholarship, and their relationship with members of the bench and bar. The ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar must pave the way in order for these structural changes to occur. In particular, the ABA standards governing law school accreditation must be amended substantially – with respect to faculty composition, faculty governance, faculty duties concerning scholarship, and law school curricular requirements. Without such changes, no meaningful systemic reform will ever occur, and the many problems that currently plague legal education will continue. The ball is in the ABA’s court but, ultimately, law schools must effect change themselves (with or without the ABA’s help, to the degree that they are able) – for the good of law students, the legal profession, and the public. We can, and should, turn the current crisis in legal education into an opportunity for meaningful change.