Monday, October 31, 2011

What skills should law schools teach tomorrow's students and how do we pay for it?

The National Law Journal has started a blog called The Law School Review to spark discussion about some of the vexing problems confronting legal education these days including the usual suspects like rising student tuition loan debt in the face of diminishing job opportunities.

In today's post, Indiana U. Professor William Henderson, an expert on the legal marketplace, talks about the day of reckoning facing law schools if they don't adapt to the profound structural changes taking place in law practice like outsourcing and the automation of many routine lawyering tasks. One question he says law schools need to think deeply about is what skills will tomorrow's lawyers need in light of these changes and how do law schools, already under intense financial pressure, pay for it given that most skills training is labor intensive and hence expensive.

[T]he artisan craft of lawyering is gradually giving ground to a new generation of legal entrepreneurs that use new technologies and businesses processes to improve quality and reduce costs of various legal products and services. The thrust of this movement is to standardize, offshore or automate many of the tasks formally performed by U.S.-licensed lawyers.  This tech-driven approach will dramatically improve lawyer productivity; yet, it is also likely to reduce the demand for traditionally trained law school graduates.

In the years to come, many of the most lucrative, challenging and innovative opportunities will lie at the intersection of law and other disciplines.  Law schools are ill-equipped to teach many of these critical competencies, such as teamwork, collaboration, project management, finance, marketing, statistics, knowledge management and effective communication across knowledge domains.  This retooling challenge entails both new substantive knowledge and unfamiliar teaching methods.  Regarding the latter, most of these skills and competencies require experiential teaching—i.e., learning by doing.

Here is the brutal truth: the resources to pay for this retooling are going to have to come at the expense of traditional scholarship. Time is our primary asset; this is a painful tradeoff because scholarship is the most enjoyable part of the job for many  law professors.  Further, unlike prolific scholarly writing, retooling curriculum does not enhance one's prospects of getting a lateral appointment, so many law professors will not come to this party willingly.

You can continue reading Professor Henderson's post by clicking here.


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