Sunday, April 28, 2013

Bill Henderson on Legal Education Reform: "We had the power all along"

Bill Henderson has an insightful post on legal education reform, inspired by the recent ABA Taskforce on the Future of Legal Education meeting.

He writes, "These programs are laudable and, from an institutional perspective, necessary.  But will an ABA taskforce, or AALS, LSAC, or some other industry group taskforce produce substantial change?  History suggests that the answer is no and that, instead, meaningful change will come from the bottom up rather than the top down.  Change will occur at the bottom from either the desire to survive or the opportunity to do something great.  Other similarly situated institutions that feel less urgency or inspiration will eventually perish.  It is just that simple.

The accreditation system we have created is an anachronism.  But if we think the ABA Standards are holding back the forces of innovation in legal education, we are kidding ourselves. Any law school or law professor who wants a better way can have one -- we are all like Dorothy and her red slippers in the Wizard of Oz: we have had the power all along (credit to Paul Lippe, who cracked this line the other day.)"

He mentions the privilege that law professors enjoy, then he notes. "But the fact is we need to justify that privilege through our behavior; otherwise, just like now, we become vulnerable."  He adds, "Reform in legal education is not a light switch.  It is mindset that affects how we spend our time and who we spend it with."

He concludes, "If we want reform, well, let's work on it and actually get something done that will inspire others. Eventually it will take hold and take off, with or without changes to the ABA governing standards."  You can read the rest of the article here.

Professor Henderson is correct.  If we are going to change legal education, we will mainly have to do it on an individual-by-individual basis.  In other words, we need to make the changes in our individual classes.  We need to add problem-solving exercises to our classes, to teach our students metacognitive thinking (here), to give frequent formative assessments, to give writing assignments to our students, etc.  In sum, law professors need to change their mindset for legal education.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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