Wednesday, May 1, 2013

D-Day for Law School Deans

Paul Lippe has posted an article on the ABA Journal Website concerning how law school deans are reacting and should be reacting to the crisis in legal education.  He writes, "For some time we’ve been saying that the recent 'disengagement' strategy of law schools, aspiring to be uber-departments of American Studies or Political Philosophy while writing law review articles for other law professors, was an unsustainable deviation from the widely understood mission of a professional school. Now that unsustainability is self-evident, the good news is it's an acute enough problem for law schools that most deans are embarking on innovative approaches to address it."

He continues, "applications were down 38 percent over the last two years. While many would like to imagine that’s a blip, there’s nothing whatsoever to indicate that the trend will reverse itself any time soon, in part because the trend is pervasive, i.e., the 'top' undergraduate students (as conventionally measured) are declining in applications at least as fast as the overall drop, and because applications won’t improve until there is at least as much evidence that law is fixing its problems as there has been that we’re in a 'crisis.'"  "So every dean will have to explain to their central administration how they intend to manage through a significant revenue drop, in the context of what is now widely seen as a ‘crisis’ for the profession and the legal academy. . . .  So every dean, whether they passionately or provisionally believe it, will have to present a plan that shows them embarking on significant change."

Lippe argues, "The broad outlines of schools reform are also clear. A third year that is much more externally oriented (especially if optional), greater effort to produce “useful-ready”  . . .  lawyers, and a much stronger effort to connect to the profession, especially in-house teams who are driving advances in methodology and productivity, so they can train 21st century lawyers."

After giving examples of programs that have made successful changes, he states, "Awareness of the problem is much more acute than it was four years ago, so it might feel like things are worse, when in fact that dialogue is leading to the very rapid evolution of solutions so the underlying reality is improving. Hopefully we can look forward to a day not too far in the future when the U.S. News criteria for law school rankings start to encompass innovation and educational effectiveness. Personally I believe I will be much more inclined to encourage my kids to go to law school a year or two down the road than I was two years ago."

In sum, "The job of a professional school is to help the profession advance, yet law schools have until now been largely unchanged from what they were 60 years ago, perhaps imagining that the only profession they had to serve was the academy and maybe judges. Just as we wouldn’t expect patients or even practicing physicians to take primary responsibility for advancements in medicine, but we expect the medical schools to help lead the way, so we can’t expect clients and firms to help law advance without law schools 'in the fight.'”

(Scott Fruehwald)

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