Sunday, November 20, 2011

New skills-related scholarship: "Renaissance or Retrenchment: Legal Education at a Crossroads"

This one is by Professor Lauren Carasik (Western New England School of Law) and can be found at 44 Ind. L. Rev. 735 (2011).  From the introduction:

This is a time of unprecedented opportunity to undertake a comprehensive and unflinching evaluation of the deeply entrenched and inflexible system of legal education, a system that has utterly failed to adapt its pedagogy, culture, and economics to the current and devastating reality facing law students. A confluence of factors has created the current state of affairs, including the publication of two monographs-the MacCrate Report and more recently, the Carnegie Report - decrying the limitations of the dominant pedagogy of legal education and urging educators to reshape its reigning design; a collaborative effort to delineate the best practices in legal education in the Best Practices Report that highlighted the shortcomings of legal education as currently structured; crushing student debt, rising tuition, and dismal employment prospects for law school graduates; vociferous student dissatisfaction with the value of their legal education; a continuing crisis in access to justice; the apparent end of “big law;” and alarming rates of student and lawyer distress. These factors contain thematic cross-currents and send the unmistakable message that it is time to ignite a conversation within the academy and the broader legal community to reassess our mission, vision, and efficacy as legal educators. We must engage in unsparing self-reflection, step back from our entrenched positions and the attendant privilege we have as members of legal academia, and re-imagine a new vision for legal education that serves the interests of our students, the bench and bar, and society, with an overarching aspiration to bolster the bedrock principle of equal justice under law.

 

This Article synthesizes some of the literature criticizing the current state of legal education with some of the scholarship proposing solutions and argues that whatever review is undertaken must be expansive, with a careful and critical look at how each piece supports the endeavor. None of the ideas discussed below, taken alone, are novel, as scholarship abounds on all of the topics. Considered together, they propound a comprehensive and holistic approach to reform. In essence, my goal is to catalyze a wholesale reconsideration of the very foundation of legal education. Many of the seemingly disparate themes comprise a Gordian Knot and cannot be rectified in isolation. Accordingly, the whole enterprise must be deconstructed, from how we recruit and admit law students to how we license them, because the process supports a self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating system and culture that fails to serve our students and the society in which they will operate as professionals. I hope this engenders a conversation that is unfreighted by and decoupled from history and compels us to step back and critically assess how we can restructure legal education by focusing our sights on the best interests of our students instead of perpetuating the privilege and luxury of legal academia. Given the well-documented emotional and fiscal price that legal education is exacting from our students, it is unconscionable to maintain the status quo. After lamenting the current conditions that law students confront, one commentator noted that “[a]t some point, law professors can no longer disclaim responsibility for the harmful consequences of this enterprise.”

 

This Article is comprised of three parts. Part I provides the historical backdrop for legal education, briefly critiques the current system, and discusses the impact of those shortcomings on law students. Part II considers a few of the solutions crafted in response to the current crisis facing legal educators. Part III suggests a wide array of reforms aimed at remediating these deficiencies and argues that any real reform must consider and integrate the seemingly disparate but interdependent factors. Piecemeal and incremental reforms will ultimately fail to fully remedy the shortcomings of our current system, although they may provide marginal relief. This section also illuminates the significant impediments to meaningful reform in legal education. Each section contains a truncated discussion of the topics because space constraints preclude a thorough discussion. My intention is not to provide persuasive evidence on each component, but rather to encourage a cumulative discussion that underscores the importance of an ecumenical commitment to holistic and comprehensive reform. In conclusion, the Article argues that while the forces supporting the status quo are powerful and the barriers to change are substantial, the costs of ignoring these problems for law students, practicing lawyers, our venerated legal system, and the greater society are wholly unacceptable.

(jbl).

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_skills/2011/11/new-skills-related-scholarship-renaissance-or-retrenchment-legal-education-at-a-crossroads.html

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