Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Former Dean Closius on Student-Centered Law Schools

Philip Closius has an article in the Baltimore Sun on the law school crisis that stresses the need for student-centered law schools.   He writes, "Law schools in crisis must become student-centric. Faculties are mainly interested in curriculum, publication and their teaching schedule. Presidents are focused on revenue. Deans, selected by these two groups, normally share these priorities. The things that matter to students — admissions, career services, tuition and budget, bar passage, transparency and teaching quality — are frequently ignored or delegated to staff. This paradigm, derived from the elite/flagships, will no longer work for the schools facing a radically different market. Their deans must have CEO skills informed by academic values and be actively championing student priorities."

He continues, "Pre-2007, law students did not require much institutional support to find jobs. In today's depressed environment, resumes must be reviewed, mock interviews mandated and realistic job searches ensured. Not every alumnus can donate $1 million, but all can help a student get an internship or job. The dean, faculty and staff must also visit potential employers. Concurrently, admission credentials will rise if the dean conveys a passionate vision to prospective students and the school increases its investment in scholarships. Good, satisfied students are a school's best asset in recruiting better students. As admissions credentials increase, rankings go up. As both of these occur, more employers will consider students for internships and jobs. These efforts won't transform a down market, but they will make a particular school's students more competitive."

"Deans must also insist on personal service, transparency and the finest classroom experience possible. Students are more likely to believe law school is worth the long-term investment when their school cares about them and is trying to address their concerns. In my experience, with use of this formula at two non-elite/flagship law schools, all the metrics of law school success, in matters as diverse as U.S. News ranking and faculty publication, improved. I therefore know that student-centered administrations can navigate schools through crisis and change."

"A school's positive results will disappear if student values are subordinated. Both of my deanships essentially ended when "enough" improvements had been made to justify prioritizing revenue or faculty over student interests. The prior gains at my first school were lost in a few years. My second deanship recently ended in a well-publicized dispute over diverting an increasing percentage of law revenue to non-law university concerns.

The dean, faculty, staff and president must be committed to addressing the quality issues inherent in student concerns. It's the only way to save a law school in crisis."

I strongly agree with Closius's focus on student-centered law schools.   However, I would stress some other factors that he didn't.  In particular, law schools' main goal should be to prepare law students to be practice ready and ready to serve clients.  Regardless, he is correct that law schools should show their students that they care about them and address their concerns.  Law schools should be about serving students, not the administration or faculty.

(Scott Fruehwald)


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