Thursday, April 16, 2015

Dean Luke Bierman on Legal Education

Dean Luke Bierman has written 4 Steps for Reinventing Legal Education for the ABA Journal Website.  He has declared:

"The longer we drag our feet, the greater the gap between the skills that are needed now in new attorneys and the training that traditional law schools provide them. This chasm undermines the credibility of our nation’s law schools, and threatens to waste an entire generation of promising legal talent. Legal education hasn’t changed much in a century – reinvention is long past due."

His 4 steps comprise

1. "[W]e need a redesigned curriculum that is rigorous and highly focused on the realities of being a lawyer today and tomorrow, not yesterday – we can’t focus only on fixing what we didn’t like about our legal education. We must do better in the classroom to actively engage students in developing the core legal knowledge, skills and competencies they need for the workplace. Beyond foundational law courses, students need more and better training in writing, business skills, project management, technology, data analytics, leadership development, and communication."

2. "[A]n intense focus on experiential learning. It’s not enough to cram an abbreviated clerkship or internship into the summer months or as a component of a busy semester and pretend that is enough. Instead, we need full-time, course-connected legal residencies to become a staple of the law school experience. We need to require hands-on learning through partnerships with law firms, judges, nonprofits and government agencies – where students can learn by doing in immersive and iterative programs. We also need students to test themselves in simulations led by practicing attorneys and take part in greater numbers in clinics, trial advocacy, moot court, and mock trial programs. The experiential dimensions of legal education should be integrated and strategically sequenced with rigorous courses from day one to graduation, providing students with increasing levels of responsibility for real legal work at each stage of their development."

3. "[W]e need more involvement from practicing attorneys and judges. These experts are essential to one of the key components of a successful law school experience – the development of extensive personal and professional networks."

4. "[W]ith the average debt of private law school graduates reaching nearly $125,000, the fourth critical element to an overhaul is cost – we must make law school more affordable. . . .   If we are really serious about the long term best interests of students, and thus their future clients, we need to lower the tuition and guarantee that it will not increase for the entire course of study. One way to do that is to realign the curriculum so that all students can accelerate their studies and graduate in less than the typical three years."

Finally, "The school where I serve as Dean has taken to heart that success is being redefined by transformation around us. Elon Law has adopted a new curriculum that addresses each and every one of the elements discussed above, and the faculty worked hard to adopt these changes in less than six months." (see here)

Dean Bierman has not overstated the urgency of the problem.  A report on Bloomberg, has concluded that "the smartest people are opting out of law school" and that "less-qualified students are filling their spots."  Law schools need to adopt the changes Dean Bierman proposed in his article and the more detailed changes I have proposed here.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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Law school needs entirely reinvented. Period. I agree with all of these proposals. This applies to all law schools, from the top to the bottom.

At large firms that recruit from elite schools, there is tremendous pressure on those firms to do something about first and second year associates. In some instances, clients are refusing to pay $300+ an hour for first or second years--- Basically paying for their training.

And outside of elite schools, more and more law school graduates are heading to small firms or hanging their own shingles. In that scenario, it is imperative that those graduates have some basic knowledge of practicing law.

Case in point: I went to Georgetown. I once asked my civil procedure professor a question about aggregating claims by multiple plaintiffs to reach the $75,000 threshold for federal jurisdiction. He basically laughed at me and said he didn't know because he didn't actually practice law.

Posted by: Jonathan Pollard | Apr 17, 2015 7:44:29 AM

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