Thursday, February 16, 2012

David Thomson On David Segal And Legal Education

As most of you know, David Segal has published a series of articles on legal education in the New York Times (and elsewhere). The problem that I’ve had with Segal’s articles is that he has an incomplete notion of legal education. He is correct that there are problems in legal education, but he doesn’t see the details of these problems and he misses other problems.

David Thomson has an insightful post on Segal’s articles on Law School 2.0. Thomson writes:

"From my point of view, in his articles in the Times and in this video, Mr. Segal has put a spotlight on problems in legal education at the top (schools that mostly disfavor teaching lawyering skills) and at the bottom (schools that charge a lot and may be playing fast and loose with employment data). But he misses the good middle almost entirely.

There are many law schools today that are working hard (and harder every day) to train their graduates better for a wider range of law practice. One way of looking at the concern about a lack of "small matter" lawyers is that too many law schools are not producing graduates who are ready to practice when they leave, some of whom might "hang out a shingle" competently, and develop a small matter practice and make a decent living doing so (and be able to pay off their educational debt). 

I suppose the sexier, headline grabbing, front page "above the fold" articles are the ones Mr. Segal wants to write. But there is another very encouraging story that he is missing, and by not paying attention to it, he is not providing the full picture of legal education today. There are many encouraging signs. For a start, he might want to look at the Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers initiative of the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System. A consortium of law schools - across the spectrum - are working hard to improve legal education. My own course portfolio - for the Discovery Practicum course - was one of the first ones posted, but I am hardly alone; more and more law professors are changing how they teach law, in part by making it more practice focused.

These efforts are about producing better value for the cost of legal education. We may not be able to reduce the cost, but we can teach better, and prepare our students for a variety of practice settings. As I argue in the Law School 2.0 book, leveraging technology will play an increasingly important role in providing better value for the cost."

Professor Thomson concludes: "The complete picture is much better, and more encouraging, than Mr. Segal acknowledges, and the full story would benefit from his spotlight. Now there's a story to write about."

Exactly.  If those law schools that are making significant changes in legal education receive more publicity, then prospective law students will seek out those institutions.  This will force those institutions that are not making changes to make changes.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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