Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Law school leaders are dividing into two camps: stuck v. serious
Paul Lippe has an excellent article in the ABA Journal, Law school leaders are dividing into two camps: stuck v. serious. He argues that "As law schools continue to struggle with an extraordinary decline in applications, their leaders—deans—seem to be dividing themselves into two camps: the stuck and the serious." He then notes the "inconvenient truths" for the stucks, such as "only 57 percent of the class of 2013 have real law jobs," "LSAT test-taking last fall hit its lowest point since 1998," "the financial underpinning of law schools has been full-freight, unqualified federal student loans, which are in rapid decline," and "even recently graduated lawyers who have the highest-paying, 'elite' jobs are quite dissatisfied with the hierarchical, pre-modern work styles that characterize most large firms." He concludes that "This is not a P.R. problem, as the stuck would suggest; it is a reality problem—lawyers have not kept pace with modern demands to improve value, and dynamic young people see more attractive career opportunities in other fields." However, "fortunately for all of us, the serious camp is now ascendant, the intrinsic value of the rule of law is enormously high, and most deans are grappling with reality, trying to preserve the best of law school while enabling appropriate change."
He then discusses the Future of Law School Innovation conference held at Colorado Law last week. "The heart of the conference was two presentations by George Kembel, the head of the Institute of Design at Stanford. . . Kembel describes a six-step approach to 'design-centric thinking' for complex problem-solving: empathy, problem definition, ideation, prototype, test, iterate." "[T]o really problem-solve, you have to think deeply about the problem and then consider changing the mix of how you solve it. 'You have to decide which constraints are fixed, and which you can change.”
Kembel "disagreed with the moderator’s emphasis on 'how law schools should prepare students to get jobs' by saying: 'We think schools should prepare students to create their own jobs. . .'" Lippe added that "The good news is that lots of people throughout law have already implicitly been applying design-centered thinking, especially corporate legal departments and others who wrestle with problems of scale and complexity." Lippe then mentions other "design compliant" initiatives discussed at the conference. He then notes, "Although she wasn’t at the conference, probably the single most 'design-centric' move in law in the last decade was Harvard Dean Martha Minow’s putting Jonathan Zittrain in charge of Harvard’s library. . . . 'If you connect law’s biggest library with its best technologist, something design-ish is bound to happen.'"
He ends, "Law is enormously valuable for all aspects of society, but we have to come to the grips with the reality that some 'better-designed' styles of practice are much more effective than others. If law schools use more client-and-lawyer empathy and a little less judge-and-academic empathy to start assessing those better practice styles, they can readily produce 21st-century lawyers and sustainable law schools. Seriously getting this right is a lot easier than stuckedly defending a status quo that isn’t working."
As we have stated here many times, those law schools that don't innovate will suffer or even go out of business. The leaders of this generation of legal educators will be the innovators, not those who desperately cling to the past.