Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Professor William D. Henderson: Law Students Have an Important Role to Play in the Future of Legal Education

Professor William D. Henderson believes that law students have an important role to play in the future of legal education.  (here)  He declares, "I urge law students to ask us law professors tougher questions about the current state of legal education, albeit with respect.  If they ask tough questions, we will all be better off."

He continues, "First, we need your skepticism to question our methods and our motives.  The legal marketplace is undergoing significant changes.   We did not adequately anticipate these disruptions.  In addition, we do not fully understand their breadth and depth.    Because we are human, we are reluctant to admit our confusion.   Even worse, we may even deny there is a problem.  After all, the confluence of high student debt and a soft legal market happened on our watch. 

Second, we need your youthful energy to refashion legal education in a way that is much more consistent with our professional ideals.  All lawyers covet prestige, but over the last decades we have confused prestige with money and rankings.  As a historical matter, lasting legal reputations are disproportionately traceable to a lifelong willingness to doggedly and creatively advance the welfare of others.   Even today, the best lawyers find ways to faithfully serve their clients while simultaneously advancing the public good. We need your generation to lay the foundation for a renaissance in which our collective behavior more closely hews to our ideals. This is a goal worthy of your time and talent."

I believe that it will take all relevant groups--legal educators, attorneys, law firms, politicians, the public, and law students--to make the changes that are necessary in legal education.  I agree with Professor Henderson that law students are especially important to the future of legal education and that they should speak up.  I also share his warning: "At the beginning of this essay, I failed to mention one key proviso to my 'question authority' admonition.  I told the law students that when they question authority, they should do it respectfully.  Indeed, all of my life experience has shown me that effectiveness in human relations requires a foundation of mutual respect.  Your elders did not create the challenges that lie ahead.  We are not your enemy.  Our limitation is that we are human, and therefore imperfect; and so are you."

About this time a year ago, a number of students started a blog on how law students could affect the future of legal education.  The blog was insightful, informative, and polite.  I gave the students some guidelines on how they could influence legal education.  (here)  Unfortunately, the blog has disappeared.  I urge law students to use their voices, and maybe some students will create a new blog on the future of legal education.  As a famous commercial used to say,"Those who are not part of the solution are part of the pollution."

(Scott Fruehwald

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