Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A Serious Debate over the Problems Facing Law Schools

Matt Bodie has noted my recent article in the National Law Journal, "The Calculus of University Presidents," and written a response that says, essentially, I am pushing the envelope too far.  Matt cites a lot of shortcomings with my article.  I will limit my response to three points: 

  1. I was given a 1,000 words by the National Law Journal. So I am going to fail to address or consider a lot of relevant points, including many points cited by Matt.  Oh well.  See Parts II and II of my Blueprint of Change for a more serious treatment of this topic.
  2. I am closer to the financial conditions of law schools than most law school faculty, and the problems are indeed serious at many places.  The 15% application drop and a $1.5 million budget shortfall were made up for the purposes of the essay. These figures are not critera, or my criteria, for anything, including the closure of law schools.  That is all I am going to say about that.
  3. I have offered one possible response to the large scale structural change taking place -- I wrote it up in detail last fall because I felt it was irresponsible to write up the bleak news on law schools without offering at least one comprehensive action plan.  See Legal Whiteboard, January 18, 2013.  That's it.  Other ideas are welcomed.

I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio during the 60s, 70s, 80s and witnessed the slowness of the region to accept that its industrial glory days were behind it.  All people, including really smart people, have a hard time accepting large-scale institutional change--emotion obscures a reasoned analysis of the facts.  This is why Who Moved by Cheese, My Iceberg is Melting, and other change management classics are written as fables.  And yes, I see the same slowness to respond within the legal academy.  That slowness has costs. 

I am not the only academic who sees the world this way.  One prominent law school dean tells the same story--often publicly--of his years as a youth growing up in Rochester, NY, home of now-bankrupt Eastman Kodak.  The president of Eastman Kodak was on his paper route. When asked about the truthfulness of rumors that photographs could indeed be saved and displayed on a computer, the president brushed aside the question and instead waxed about the virtues of chemical film that built their bocolic neighborhood.

Truth be told, I probably did risk some reputational capital writing "The Calculus of University Presidents."  But I am deeply worried about the future of legal education, and using the history of other industries as a guide, we are likely to underestimate the realities of the emerging legal landscape.  See Richard Susskind, Tomorrow's Lawyers (discusing this future in intricate detail). So why not risk some of my reputational capital?  I will make some people, like Matt, angry, but I might spur others to actions sooner rather than later.  So be it.  The purpose of tenure is to facilitate these judgment calls.  I can live with that.

[posted by Bill Henderson]

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwhiteboard/2013/05/a-serious-debate-over-the-problems-facing-law-schools.html

Current events, Structural change | Permalink

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