Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Oregon law dean says students shouldn't be worried about law school

An interview with Dean Michael Moffitt from the U. Oregon Daily Emerald:

Emerald: With the more negative reports coming out about law school, what was your reaction?

Michael Moffitt: It’s funny because a lot of these reports are coming out as though this were something that just happened last month, a brand new development. The reality is that the legal market and legal education have been going through a fundamental transformation for most of the last decade. There have been some more recent developments in the market that I think have pressed fast forward on some of those developments, but there is not a lot in any of the reports coming out that are news to anyone who’s business is education. Theses are things for which we have been preparing for years. We’re really well positioned as to some of the changes, and we’re like a lot of other law schools in others. So, it’s not a surprise; it’s a confirmation of the expectations that we’ve been having about some of these evolutions.

Do you get a lot of questions from parents and students about these things?

Less I think than the media reports might suggest. The reality is, students have always asked really good, hard questions about how they’re going to spend potentially three more years of their life. You should be asking hard questions. Oregon law attracts the kinds of students who are going to be well engaged in whatever it is they do … We attract students who want, frequently, to do creative entrepreneurial things, often in the public interest, defined broadly. That’s exactly the population that’s been asking these questions for a long time. And so, no I don’t. I haven’t experienced a difference this year as opposed to last year. It’s always been high; they always ask good questions about that.

What is your response to them?

One of the challenges that incoming law students face is they’re trying to guess what they’re going to want to do three years after they begin a transformational educational experience. That’s a lot of guesswork. What we have to do is work really hard with students not just as they’re coming in but during their time here to make sure that by the time they’re leaving, they’re prepared to begin their professional lives in whatever way they think is most appropriate for them. Most law students come in with a very clear picture of what it is they want to do when they graduate. Most law students, me included, are completely wrong. We’re well-intended, but we learn things along the way … That’s part of what the law school experience is. What we try not to do is force students into a track that depends on them being “right” when they were juniors in college, about what they’re going to do four or five years later. That’s just not the world that any of us lives in anymore. It might have been at one point, but the market’s shifting too quickly for that to make sense.

. . . .

For those coming into their last year or recently graduated, what do you tell these students that are about to enter into this, grimmer workforce than expected?

Not to oversimplify, but the most important thing they can do at this stage is engage with the networks that we have set up. We have people who are among the best professionals in the country, working in our Center for Career Planning and Professional Development. Those professionals cannot do their job unless they work with the students closely. I’m trying to do everything I can to encourage our current students and our recent grads to connect with each other and connect with us. Law Ducks want to help law Ducks. Every week, I get inquiries from people saying ‘Hey do you know anybody in this-and-such a city who specializes in (this) because I’m looking for somebody to give some more work to do.’ I need to be able to take advantage of that by knowing who’s out there looking for what. So, part of the answer is engage, engage, engage.

. . . .

There are a lot of people right now asking ‘Is it worth it to go to law school?’ How do you respond to that?

I am not someone who thinks everyone should go and get a J.D. I think that there are some people who would really be best served by taking a class or two, and that’s enough. I think that there are a lot of people who would be very well served to get the skills and the credentials that come along with a J.D., but unless I know a lot more about somebody, I can’t recommend for or against law school. It’s a lot of time and a lot of money. And depending on what you want to do with your life, that could be a great investment. Or that could be silly. It’s part of why we do such a thorough, whole-file review of every applicant. I’ve got no interest in admitting someone to this law school if they don’t want to be here. This isn’t right for them. I do think that law school is right for people, beyond just the obvious: If you want to be a lawyer, you have to go to law school. As I’ve been out visiting with alumni, some of the people who have been the most rabid supporters of the law school are entrepreneurs. They’re people who started their own businesses, or they’re people who got into lobbying, or they are elected officials, or they work in jobs that don’t actually require a J.D. — but they say ‘It was that legal training that made me good at what I was doing.’ So, it’s not just people that want to be a lawyer that should go to law school, but I don’t think it’s a smart move for people to say ‘Well, I don’t know. What else was I gonna do?’

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