Thursday, January 3, 2013

Suggestions for reforming legal education that will make students more practice ready

From Professor Jon Garon (NKU Chase) via the New Normal column at the ABA Journal Blog.  Professor Garon is the author of the forthcoming article in the Connecticut Law Review "Legal Education in Disruption: The Headwinds and Tailwinds of Technology."

First and foremost, this requires that law schools [must] teach the discipline of running a legal business. Lawyers must understand the consequence of their own financial statements, balance sheets and capital accounts. Other business skills including human resource management, marketing, risk management, organizational behavior, leadership and strategic planning are all part of a lawyer’s professional management of her firm and essential to being an effective resource for her client.

Second, specialization is no longer enough. A lawyer should fully understand the relevant context in which a specialization is utilized. Successful lawyers understand that clients seek lawyers to solve complex issues that have legal, regulatory, logistical and economic attributes. Context for the legal issues is essential to properly understand the nature of the problem and to recommend appropriate strategies for resolution. Law schools must provide training to teach lawyers to better understand, analyze and interpret the environment in which their clients operate.

Third, law school should provide law students with hands-on training for the tools of practice and the impact of technology. The ABA has moved in this direction through its Ethics 20/20 Commission's recent amendments to the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility. In adopting ethics and competency rules on technology as it affects confidentiality, client development and marketing, the ABA recognizes the need for lawyers to understand the consequences of technology changing the way information is stored, retrieved and communicated. Law students should gain experience, applying practical and ethical decision-making using these tools before they enter practice.

Both the context and the methodology of practice can be taught well through a live-client setting which also adds greatly to other professional competencies. Moreover, to the extent that the new normal has jettisoned the bar’s obligation to transition law graduates into working professionals, then these real-client educational apprenticeships are becoming essential for the professional development of each lawyer.

Fortunately, schools across the country are exploring ways to address these growing demands. Many combine the real-client component with aspects on the business of lawyering or utilize joint degrees or certifications that increase the context and specify of the law degree. Here are a few of the many examples:

• University of Connecticut School of Law has been the most recent school to announce a real-client graduation requirement. In its press release, UConn suggests it is joining 20 other schools which have made a clinical or externship component mandatory.

• The Northeastern University School of Law and the Drexel University Earle Mack School of Law co-op programs perhaps represent the most comprehensive real-client field placement programs, offering full-time field placements for their students.

• NYU School of Law has added business and financial literacy as well as leadership and collaboration as key components to its core curriculum. It has also emphasized globalization and interdisciplinary specialization.

• Northern Kentucky University Chase College of Law has partnered with the NKU College of Informatics for specialized joint degrees pairing law with Business Informatics and Health Informatics, creating an academic program highlighting the technology driven context of modern business and health care.

• Hamline University School of Law has expanded its Health Law Institute to create the Health Care Compliance Certificate accredited by the Compliance Certification Board (CCB), making the students eligible to take the Certified in Healthcare Compliance Examination (CHC Exam).

• Michigan State University College of Law, created the ReInvent Law project, described as “a law laboratory devoted to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in legal services.”

• University of Miami School of Law has sponsored LawWithoutWalls, to foster “skills needed by the professionals of our future such as presentation, communication, entrepreneurial, teamwork, global and cross-cultural, business planning, branding, technology, social media, business networking, self-awareness, work-life balance, innovative research, professionalism, ethics, and idea generation.”

These examples of real-client education, contextual development, and exploration of the business acumen needed to work in the 21st century legal environment are at the heart of legal education reform. At the same time, however, the core of legal education should not change. Students must be taught to think like a lawyer, meaning to synthesize large volumes of information, evaluate facts and rules, reason carefully and communicate effectively. They continue to need courses in torts, contracts, civil procedure, constitutional law and criminal law (among others), because these reflect the substantive building blocks on which the other skills are developed.

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Continue reading here.


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