Legal Education for the Future

Lead Article From The Practice July/August 2015
Training lawyers for a changing profession

In July, Brooklyn Law School announced it will soon start handing tuition back to students who don’t find jobs. Under the plan, called Bridge to Success, students who can show they’ve used the school’s placement office yet still haven’t found employment nine months after graduation will receive 15 percent of their tuition back in a lump sum.

The school has a strong 90 percent post-graduation employment rate, so it may not, in fact, send out many checks. Yet times have certainly changed. At a conference on legal education in 2013, the president-elect of the American Bar Association, Paulette Brown, noted, “I graduated from law school in 1976. Tuition was $963 a semester, and we revolted when they wanted to raise it to $968 a semester.”

In the midst of declining applications and an uncertain job market, law schools are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. In this issue, we examine innovative programs springing up at many law schools around the country and the world and speak with legal experts and educators, including the Center on the Legal Profession’s Faculty Director David B. Wilkins, to explore what legal education should look like—now and in the future.

The Takeaway

In the midst of declining applications and an uncertain job market, law schools are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. Many are taking innovative measures to revamp curricula, add experiential opportunities, and intensify placement efforts. If the legal profession is no longer as sure a path to success as it once was, efforts to adjust and adapt to a changing profession are healthy and warranted.

The new normal

After the financial downturn in 2008, law school seemed a safe haven to ride out the storm—as it long has been. Applications rose in 2009 and reached all-time highs in 2010. But the downturn only accelerated changes that were already reverberating through the legal world, says David B. Wilkins, Lester Kissel Professor of Law, Vice Dean for Global Initiatives on the Legal Profession, and Faculty Director of the Center on the Legal Profession. Firms, facing sharp drops in revenue, tightened their belts, reduced hiring, and famously funded many first-year associates’ work in less costly public service positions for a year to cut costs. The hiring market contracted considerably.

CLP “Lawyers as Professionals and as Citizens” Conference, April 10, 2015 – Part Four

Since 2010, it’s well known: applications have dropped dramatically. Between 2005 and 2014, the number of people applying to law school dropped from 95,800 to 55,700—nearly half. Those taking the LSAT have dropped by about the same proportion since 2009. Law school application rates haven’t been so low since the 1960s. Tellingly, applications remain down among the most academically attractive students. Those scoring the highest on the LSAT were down in 2013. Though they ticked back up to positive numbers in 2014, enrollments at many schools have dropped 30 percent to as much as 50 percent in the past five years. These statistics have many law school deans puzzled.

Firms are beginning to hire again, and as the number of graduates falls, a higher proportion are getting jobs—resulting in the highest offer rate for 3Ls coming out of summer jobs (93.4 percent) in 2014 than in the prior 22 years the NALP has been tracking such data.

Meanwhile, bar passage rates have also dropped this year, and few observers seem willing to suggest why. The National Conference of Bar Examiners (NCBE), the body that designs and administers the exam, ruffled feathers when it suggested exam takers were simply less able. Accusations flew about the cause of the drops—some object that a major technical snafu in many jurisdictions, in which participants were unable to upload their first day’s results, may have affected passage rates. To defend itself, the NCBE released the LSAT scores of test takers from 2010 to 2013 showing 95 percent of law schools had admitted students with lower LSAT scores at the 25th percentile. Many deans are likely to be holding their breath for the next exam.

There is some good news. Firms are beginning to hire again, and as the number of graduates falls, a higher proportion are getting jobs—resulting in the highest offer rate for 3Ls coming out of summer jobs (93.4 percent) in 2014 than in the prior 22 years the National Association for Law Placement (NALP) has been tracking such data. Employment offers were also up for the class of 2014.

Also, there may also be signs of stabilization in law school applications. According to recent estimates from the Law School Admission Council, as of July 2015, the number of law school applicants dropped just 2 percent from the same time last year—the smallest decline in 5 years. Also, LSAT takers have ticked up slightly since December 2014. Though the increases are small—ranging from less than 1 percent to 6.6 percent over the same period last year—they’re not the double-digit drops the test has seen since 2010, which could be considered good news. The number of high-scorers who go on to apply is also up slightly.

Whether these numbers signal the beginning of a genuine upswing or simply stabilization and a new normal remains to be seen.

Skyrocketing tuition

Relentless increases since the 1980s have put law school tuitions in the stratosphere—on average, about $40,000 for nonresident attendees of public schools (often driven by large decreases in public funding for higher education), and about $25,000 for residents. In 2015, tuitions for top private schools hover around $50,000, with some nearing the $60,000 mark, according to American Bar Association (ABA) data. Meanwhile, average debt for private law school graduates is $127,000, and for public school graduates $88,000. About 15 percent graduate with no debt at all, across all schools. At others, virtually every student borrows to finance his or her education.

There’s no question schools need to hold costs in check. Some suggest law school tuition has risen simply because it could. In Failing Law Schools (University of Chicago Press, 2012), Brian Tamahana reports one dean at a Baltimore law school—when asked to explain his school’s 77 percent tuition hikes over the previous seven years—admitted: “The only thing that justifies it is, so is everyone else in the law school world.”

Average debt for private law school graduates is $127,000, and for public school graduates $88,000.

Faculty salaries, spending on students, and marketing to influence US News rankings—all have likely played some role. But the economics of higher education is a broad societal issue, one that by no means affects law schools in isolation. Soon-to-be doctors and lawyers graduate with more debt than anyone else, but graduate schools are expensive across the board. Still, tuition and debt levels are now unaffordably high.

Tuition freezes, even drops

Since all this is occurring at a time when the job market is still reeling, it’s harder for schools to justify the expense of a degree. According to the National Law Journal, overall employment figures among the nation’s largest 350 firms were flat for 2014, rising a mere 0.6 percent over 2013. Meanwhile, associate hiring dropped 0.04 percent.

According to one estimate, 80 to 85 percent of ABA-accredited law schools are operating in the red. Some schools have cut expenses, even faculty. Yet considering that law schools have long been revenue generators for their universities, there’s probably room for belt-tightening. To keep students in seats, many are increasing merit scholarships and other forms of grants and tuition discounts. And dozens of schools have announced outright tuition drops, from a 30 percent cut for out-of-state residents at the University of Arizona Law School (the same pioneering school that recently announced the nation’s first B.A. in law) to decreases of about 10 to 18 percent at other, mostly regional schools across the country.

One standout is the brand-new University of North Texas Dallas College of Law, which will teach its first classes this fall, has set tuition at just $14,000 in-state and $24,000 for out-of-state residents. It awaits ABA accreditation, but students don’t seem deterred: the school received more than 600 applications for its first term, twice what it expected.

Further evidence enrollment drops are cost-related comes from an analysis of preliminary enrollment data last fall by the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper found entering class sizes at law schools that had dropped tuition or instituted substantial grants jumped 25 percent to as much as 52 percent in 2013.

Value, not simply cost

By at least one estimate, a law degree is still an investment that pays off over time. With the paper “The Economic Value of a Law Degree,” Michael Simkovic of Seton Hall Law School and Frank McIntyre of Rutgers ignited discussion across the blogosphere. The two analyzed the relative value of a law degree—how much earnings advantage a J.D. provided over a B.A.—and found that, on average, law graduates benefited from about $1 million more in income over a lifetime than those with just an undergraduate degree.

On average, law graduates benefited from about $1 million more in income over a lifetime than those with just an undergraduate degree, according to a study by Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre.

Critics quibbled that the analysis didn’t take taxes or tuition costs into account—not to mention current market conditions. Yet, in a later analysis, Simkovic and McIntyre found an initial earnings premium for those graduating to a booming job market, particularly for those at the high end, but no other statistically significant effects on earnings during down markets—and he noted that those graduating into the worst job markets of the 1980s and 1990s found their earnings evened out to average over time. In addition, he notes that revenue, staffing, and profits have grown among Am Law 100 firms every year since 2009, and that the same is true, although less substantially, at Am Law 200 firms.

Many recent graduates still may not be in great shape. An employment analysis of the class of 2010 published in April found job outcomes had improved only marginally for the class over the past five years. Nine months after graduation, more than 10 percent were working part time, and more than 20 percent were in jobs that did not require bar passage. Five years later, just two-thirds had found jobs practicing law. Meanwhile, little over half of the classes of 2012 and 2013 had full-time, long-term jobs that required passing the bar nine months after graduation.

Career choices not always defined by debt

After the JD, a nationally representative study of law school graduates over time, looked at remaining debt for those 12 years out of law school. While those holding positions at the largest firms and as in-house counsel were most likely to report having entirely paid off their debt, those working in public interest and nonprofit jobs were only slightly less likely to report the same. Those in the latter category almost certainly benefited from some form of loan forgiveness, indicating that those in traditionally lower-paying jobs may not have a harder time paying off debt, given those programs. Indeed, the first wave of the study, which examined those several years out of law school, found little apparent link between debt level and ultimate career choices, though respondents did suggest they valued loan forgiveness—of the 23 public interest lawyers included in the survey who answered the question, 11 said the existence of loan forgiveness programs was “extremely important” to their choice of career.

The irony is it’s easier to take a low paying job, if you go to Harvard Law School than maybe if you go to a lot of other schools that have equally high tuition, but don’t have the tremendous endowments or other sources to pay for loan forgiveness programs the way Harvard does.

David B. Wilkins, faculty director at HLS Center on the Legal Profession

At some elite schools, such as Yale and Harvard, the law school pays graduates’ loans under a certain income threshold. But programs like these are few, and more could clearly be done. Greater loan forgiveness could bring back some of the idealism long associated with the profession, as well as help many who currently struggle to pay back loans. The new federal Pay As You Earn program caps loan payments at 10 percent of income and forgives any remaining balance after 10 years. That forgiveness, however, is taxable—meaning it will likely leave already low-income borrowers with a whopping tax bill.

“Only relatively wealthy schools are going to be able to subsidize people going into lower paying public service jobs,” says Wilkins. “The irony is it’s easier to take a low paying job, if you go to Harvard Law School, than maybe if you go to a lot of other schools that have equally high tuition, but don’t have the tremendous endowments or other sources to pay for loan forgiveness programs the way Harvard does.”

Satisfaction within the profession

Law schools are reeling, but few seem willing to publicly speculate why attendance and interest have dropped so dramatically. It almost certainly has something to do with the changing conditions of the legal profession, says Wilkins.

“It’s not surprising that legal aspirants decided to take a harder look,” he says. “When they took a harder look, they began to look at a lot of things, like the cost of law school, like the debt people are coming out with, like the reports about the satisfaction or dissatisfaction of even people who land jobs. They started to look at the instability, not just in the junior-level jobs, but in the career more generally.”

As the legal profession undergoes what are likely to be fundamental changes—cost pressures from clients, the reduced need for associates as a result of technological tools and outsourcing, as well as a reduced overall market—quality of life in the profession has also taken a hit.

Students are asking: Even if I get a job, can I have a life? Is it going to be satisfying? Will I be secure?

People have always worked hard in large firms, Wilkins says, but working hard once meant something different. “When you went home, you were home,” he says. “You didn’t have a Blackberry, or clients in China emailing you at midnight and expecting an answer back in an hour. As you progressed in the profession, you worked less and more of your work was relationship-building, including going to lunch in fancy clubs with clients and playing golf and sitting in your office doing strategic thinking.”

Now, the difference in the work life between junior associate and junior partners and even mid-level and senior partners is far less. In fact, Wilkins has written, the hours that have increased most in law firms in the past several decades are partner hours, not associate hours. Partners are working harder and with far less job security than they ever have before. Students are asking: Even if I get a job, can I have a life? Is it going to be satisfying? Will I be secure?

Ironically, Wilkins says, the downturn in applications came as law schools were beginning to chip away at a decades-old, Paper Chase–era reputation for being a highly unpleasant experience. Schools have begun a charm offensive, putting a kinder, gentler face on legal education—emphasizing teamwork, multidisciplinary studies, smaller class sizes, and reduced stress on grading, along with a shift from letter grades to other kinds of grades. At a time when the actual law school experience is probably both objectively and in perception less frightening, people are applying less. But perceptions of whether they’d be happy or secure even if they got a job, are the greater fear—“particularly compared to other options that people who have choices are thinking about,” Wilkins notes.

There may also be generational factors. Millennials, says Wilkins, “want to feel that their work is meaningful and that it’s contributing to something that’s going to make the world better in some way. That’s the challenge for law—and we should attract those people, because law has always been the kind of career that was connected to the public good and public policy, even if it was just protecting individual rights or constitutional law or government. Now, what they’re hearing is, ‘No, that’s not what it’s like at all. It’s about endless hours, pushing paper, making one company richer than another.’ And they say, ‘I’d rather spend my political capital doing something else.’”

Millennials want to feel that their work is meaningful and that it’s contributing to something that’s going to make the world better in some way. That’s the challenge for law.

David B. Wilkins

Average debt levels hovering between $100,000 and $200,000, a contracted job market, and uneasiness about quality of life in the law combine to create a perfect storm: for many, tuition has outpriced the perceived or actual value of a degree.

A segmented market

Law school has always been a restricted market, Wilkins notes. There have always been far more aspirants than places, both for legal education itself and in jobs requiring a J.D. While some schools have reduced class sizes, and some are taking students they would not otherwise have taken in a higher application pool, they’re not closing, in part because there are still more applicants than there are spots. Law school is still in demand. But while lower-tiered law schools are worried about filling their classes and making sure the students they take are qualified and able to do the work, the schools at the top end of the market are worried that the best students they normally were able to attract not only are not going to their school, they aren’t going to law school at all.

It’s also always been a segmented, hierarchical job market, says Wilkins, and the greatest determinant of ultimate job outcomes, whether in high-end employment or high income, has always been school attended. Yet at the height of the job market—from roughly the early 1990s to 2007, with the exception of a slight downturn in 2001—large law firms’ hiring needs were so great that they began to expand from their traditional hunting grounds of the top 10 or 14 schools to second- and third-tier and regional and urban law schools (particularly those in close geographic proximity). With the brass ring seemingly in reach for many, law schools were able to credibly promise high-end employment to their best and brightest. As law firm salaries rose over the same period, the legal field became one of the most competitive and desirable in the world (see “Legal Education in Emerging Economies“). But when the job market constricted, law firms stopped hiring from those law schools and began to concentrate their hiring the way they once did, in the top tier.

That segmentation has always been masked, in part, by the tendency for most law schools to appear similar, at least externally. A formal regulatory structure in the form of ABA regulations has been reinforced by institutional isomorphism—the desire to emulate, and thus appear equal to, top schools—and by a kind of institutional solidarity among those schools.

The economic downturn put the lie to this state of affairs when top-tier law graduates sauntered into the job market and continued to do just fine, while middle- and lower-tier graduates struggled. Segments are pitted against one another in other ways: at many schools, lower-qualified students bear the full cost of tuition, essentially subsidizing the merit scholarships the school hands out to their higher-scoring peers in an effort to bolster or maintain standing in national rankings.


No discussion of legal education in the United States would be complete without acknowledging the role of rankings. The annual U.S. News and World Report rankings of every law school in the country have an outsized effect. Deans await the yearly pronouncements with trepidation; some have lost their jobs over what appears. And it’s widely acknowledged schools “game” the rankings for all they’re worth—prioritizing high LSAT scores in admissions, for example, or increasing spending per student, all in an effort to move up a few rungs or hold on to what they have. One recent lawsuit even accused a group of schools of paying students to put off the bar exam.

Perhaps the greatest controversy currently centers on schools’ practice of hiring graduates for short-term work to boost post-graduation employment numbers, a major factor in the rankings. Last year, the magazine adjusted its rankings methodology to better account for such practices, and the ABA is considering changes to how schools report employment outcomes. In the meantime, the magazine says it can’t do much: some schools offer genuinely competitive fellowships that it believes should count for worthwhile employment.

Still, there’s no question law schools need to become more mission-focused and more independent of rankings. Many point out students are partially responsible for the rankings’ power. Yet if the law has lost some of its former status as a sure ticket to the easy life, perhaps it will be easier for law schools to attract students who are more focused on substance than glamour.

There’s no question law schools need to become more mission-focused and more independent of rankings.

Either way, it’s unclear to what extent the markers that dominate US News rankings determine outcomes in the profession. As Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins write, “Law schools should press employers about whether grades and the other traditional indicia of merit that play such an outsized role in hiring decisions—particularly for law firms—in fact correlate strongly with career success or satisfaction. Available evidence from the study of Michigan Law School’s graduates suggests this is not the case.” Law schools, they write, should challenge themselves and employers to create additional measures that more accurately reflect the full range of qualities and competencies that contribute to success and satisfaction as a lawyer.


In the 1960s, law schools focused almost exclusively on common law—how to read, interpret, and litigate cases. In that sense, legal education was very well aligned to what most lawyers did: practice law in a very litigation focused, common law court–centric world.

Since then, the world has changed, and law schools have been trying to adapt. With the advent of clinical education, globalization, and regulatory law, legal education has changed significantly. Yet there is still a core of legal education that Christopher Columbus Langdell—inventor of the famous case method of studying law (see sidebar”Case method vs. case studies”)—would recognize if he walked into a modern-day law school.

Entrenched interests among faculty contribute to resistance to change. As scholarship rose in importance among tenure-granting bodies, there’s been much less engagement between law schools and the real world of how law practice is changing since the 1960s, at least until very recently. While law schools are more connected to the broader academy, that rapprochement has come at the loss of knowledge about how the profession is changing in ways that might affect how legal education should change. And while interdisciplinarity and the “law and” movement combining legal studies with other disciplines, such as economics or sociology, have added considerably to legal education and scholarship, Wilkins says, “these movements have in some ways actually undermined the old consensus about what law school should be like. We still don’t have a replacement.”

Barry Currier
Barry Currier

It’s a “canard” that legal education is held back from innovation by standards, says Barry Currier, managing director of the accreditation and legal education council (the “Council”) for the ABA’s Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. In fact, schools have long been innovating, he told The Practice in an interview. While noting that he does not speak for the Council, he says, “Legal education since I graduated in 1971 has become much more interdisciplinary, and not just at the very top schools.”

Indeed, a 2010 ABA study of curricular reform in law schools noted, though first-year core courses have changed little since 1975, schools have instituted widespread changes throughout the rest of the curriculum, such as increasing clinical education opportunities and pro bono requirements.

Still, Currier calls the conservatism inherent in the profession a “tremendous driving force.” He tells a story of heading California’s Concord Law School, the first fully online law school. “Because I’d been an ABA-school teacher for many decades, I’d go around after I had that job to give faculty presentations at law schools on Concord’s program,” he says. “I had many people come up to me after that presentation and say, ‘Well, you know, I understand that this is interesting. I understand that it can be rigorous if done well. I get it. But I really am not interested in it. I pretty much like what I do. I’m 50, 55 years old, and I’m just going to ride it out.”

“People are conservative. They get stuck in their ways. You just can’t imagine that people in most places in society could say, ‘You know, there’s probably a way we could really improve what we do. But this is pretty good the way it is.’”

Curriculum changes

Two prominent critiques of the state of legal education, the MacCrate (1992) and Carnegie (2007) reports, spurred some schools to act. But most are responding to a more recent resistance among law firms to train first-year associates, and a deeply uncertain job market that may require many graduating law students to hang a shingle for the first time in generations. As a result, recent years have seen an increasing number of new and innovative programs across the country.

Schools that no longer have a realistic option of sending a significant number of their students to top law firm jobs are beginning to differentiate themselves on other grounds, Wilkins says. They are trying to position themselves differently in the market, not so much to compete with the top schools, but to compete with each other for the remainder of both the good students and the good job opportunities.

A 2013 Kaplan survey of admissions officers from 127 schools found 71 percent had changed their curriculum to help students be more “practice-ready.” Another 16 percent were considering it.

When Washington and Lee University School of Law jettisoned its traditional third-year curriculum for practice-oriented simulations in 2009, it may have inaugurated what will turn out to be a sea change in legal education. The school saw a dramatic jump in applicants following the announcement, but that didn’t save the school from announcing a fiscal restructuring plan earlier this year. Still, while employment numbers were dismal for the first few years of the program, they seem to be on the upswing: more than 70 percent of the 2014 class found employment in law-related jobs, and 90 percent passed the bar.

Other schools are doing more to respond than simply lower tuition. A 2013 Kaplan survey of admissions officers from 127 schools found 71 percent had changed their curriculum to help students be more “practice-ready.” Another 16 percent were considering it.

Some schools are increasing clinical education and expanding experiential learning programs. In clinics, students do everything from answer questions about veterans’ benefits for free (Golden Gate University School of Law) to helping emerging clothing designers with their legal issues (Loyola Law School, Los Angeles). A clinic at the University of Virginia School of Law has brought a case before the Supreme Court every term since 2006.

At Yale, according to an analysis based on ABA data by National Jurist, clinic participation has risen sharply in the past year and is now the highest in the country. New York Law School doubled its clinics, from 13 to 26, in 2014. When Pennsylvania State University, Dickinson Law announced its separation from Pennsylvania State University in 2015 (previously one law school with two branches), it also revamped its curriculum, including parts of the first year, to focus on “practice-ready” instruction.

Overall, 86 schools—a substantial proportion of the 200 or so law schools in the country—received a B or higher in the magazine’s analysis of law schools’ efforts to make students “practice-ready,” which evaluated clinical education, externships, simulations, pro bono work, and school competitions such as moot court. Their analysis found experiential opportunities had also increased in the past year; 15 schools, including the University of California Irvine School of Law, the University of New Mexico School of Law, and the University of Wyoming College of Law, joined their annual list for the first time.

Innovative partnerships

Partnerships with business are also growing. The University of Colorado has announced a program for two students, who will complete seven-month paid internships at Cisco Systems and graduate in two and a half years. Georgetown University Law Center has tripled its available externships, to 340, since 2010. And earlier this year, Emory University School of Law, the University of Miami School of Law, the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law, and Vanderbilt Law School announced a joint partnership with UnitedLex, a Kansas-based e-discovery provider and legal outsourcer. The legal residency program will provide two-year contracts to graduates of the schools, who will earn salaries between $55,000 and $70,000 while gaining experience in intellectual property enforcement, cybersecurity, and global litigation management. UnitedLex experts will teach third-year courses at the schools, and the company will return half of profits to schools from business generated by their alumni networks.

“By making this significant investment in the training and development of the next generation of lawyers, we hope to differentiate UnitedLex from some of its competitors, who do not invest in their people and simply drain resources away from the legal ecosystem,” Daniel Reed, the CEO of UnitedLex told Legaltech News in May. “Among some lawyers and law professors there remains a stigma associated with pursuing a legal career that does not involve a traditional partnership track at a big law firm. We hope to change that mindset.”

The sort of thing I did in my entrepreneurial learning class would not look at all unusual in a business school.

Renee Newman Knake, professor at Michigan State University College of Law and co-director of the school’s Kelley Institute of Ethics and the Legal Profession

Meanwhile, the tenets of business are making their way into legal education in other ways. At Michigan State University College of Law, Renee Newman Knake co-led the two-year, grant-funded Reinvent Law “laboratory,” which received widespread attention. Knake is a professor of law and legal ethics at the school and co-directs the Kelley Institute of Ethics and the Legal Profession. As part of Reinvent Law, students took classes in business topics taught through a legal lens, including legal analytics, quantitative analysis, e-discovery, and process management. Consultants from LegalZoom and Seyfarth Lean, among others, co-taught classes with faculty.

Knake taught Reinvent Law classes in ethics and regulation in a technological age, along with entrepreneurial lawyering. She comments:

The sort of thing I did in my entrepreneurial learning class would not look at all unusual in a business school—for example, having students learn the business of law and understand the market of law by using entrepreneurship as pedagogy, while also having them engage in creating a business plan and pitching their own business idea.

Dozens of schools now offer entrepreneurial programs or clinics, including the University of Chicago, the University of Pennsylvania, and Harvard Law School. Harvard Law School recently established an agreement with the Harvard Business School that will allow law students to take a “mini-M.B.A.” based on first-year courses at the business school (see “Educating the 21st Century Lawyer”). “There is no question this is going to make our students better prepared,” Wilkins says.

Intended to launch students into solo practice or their own company, incubators, too, are on the rise. Inspired by a model at the City University of New York Law School founded in 2007, schools are now setting up office space and providing faculty mentors for recent graduates while they build a client base. More than 30 are now in place at schools and bar associations, according to ABA data.

Flexible programs

Flexible programs are another way to reach students, particularly nontraditional ones. The ABA’s Currier points to William Mitchell College of Law as an example. In December 2013, the school received the first-ever variance approval from the ABA to launch a hybrid online and on-campus four-year J.D. (The school merged with Hamline University School of Law, another St. Paul, Minnesota, school, in February of this year to form the Mitchell|Hamline School of Law.) The Council approved the school’s application “without a tremendous amount of difficulty,” he says, yet “the cost of getting a J.D. at William Mitchell has not gone down. What has gone down, of course, is you may not have to move to St. Paul. People who have work, family, or resource constraints would be able to participate in that program. Certainly, for a non-22-year-old student, that flexibility can make all the difference.”

Hybrid Launch News

“Law is increasingly going to be a second career for a lot of people,” he says. “We lose a lot of people who would be excellent lawyers the more difficult we make it in terms of money or inconvenience. To the extent we can keep the cost reasonable and make the programs flexible enough to work for non-traditional students, the legal profession is going to be all the better off for having lawyers who used to be nurses, or lawyers who used to be city planners, or lawyers who used to be a lot of things. They come in with a perspective that helps inform the way the law should change and grow.”


“In the legal profession certificates of concentration were rather rare as recently as ten years ago,” says Michael Dworkin (HLS ’78), a professor of law at Vermont College of Law and director of the school’s Institute for Energy and the Environment. Vermont College of Law offers certificates of concentration provide experience in areas of practice such as business law, dispute resolution, energy law, international and comparative law, land use law, and water law.

Degree differentiation really helps. It’s a huge safety policy if you can get somebody who has got some demonstrated, sustained, ongoing longitudinal experience in the field.

Michael Dworkin, professor of law at Vermont College of Law and director of the school’s Institute for Energy and the Environment

Yet the concentration—or a joint degree, which Vermont also offers—attract students who really care about the subject matter. They also present a cohesive curriculum that isn’t “just a 22-year-old’s best guess of what courses to take,” Dworkin says, while serving as a powerful signal to hiring parties that a candidate has a commitment to the field—helping résumé get from “the 30-second look to the 20-minute pondering to the invite for an interview stage.”

“I am utterly convinced that it helps people stand out,” he says. “The degree differentiation really helps. As a hiring person, the worst nightmare you have is you agonize for 6 months about whom to hire. You hire them, and six months later they say, ‘You know, I really just don’t like this topic area.’ It’s a huge safety policy if you can get somebody who has got some demonstrated, sustained, ongoing longitudinal experience in the field.”

More schools could tailor their expertise to concentrations, Dworkin suggests, such as international trade, criminal law, or even poverty law, a course he says he took in law school. “What’s the legal system like for people with no money? There’s been a 40 percent drop in legal jobs in the last five or eight years. There’s not a drop in the need for lawyers among low-income and moderate-income families.” The business case for poverty law may be easier to make for schools with large endowments or university support, he notes, but the social value of such a concentration is high.

Putting the professional back into professional school


In “Lawyers as Professionals and as Citizens: Key Roles and Responsibilities in the 21st Century,” Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins support making law school graduates more marketable and valuable to employers. But they also advocate for a broader vision of legal education that encompasses and inculcates the fundamental ethical values required for lawyers in their roles as astute technicians, wise counselors, and effective leaders.

“Most law school applicants have little knowledge about legal careers—and much of what they think they know is probably wrong,” they write. “Nor is there currently any systematic post-graduate education in law to pick up the slack for what students do not learn in law school. Indeed, this is precisely why we need greater collaboration among law schools, law firms, and companies to ensure that young lawyers receive the training they need throughout their careers.”

The authors propose a number of ideas for legal education to prepare students for their ethical responsibilities as technicians, counselors, and leaders. They suggest expanding course offerings on specific lawyering roles and institutions; courses that integrate core legal skills with complementary competencies to address complex problems (see sidebar “Legal skills for a global century”); and courses that combine these two while focusing specifically on the processes and effects of globalization.

To narrow the gap between the academy and the profession, law schools can continue to integrate teaching by practitioners, they suggest. “Professors of practice,” perhaps co-teaching with faculty, bring a breadth, depth, and intellectual rigor to the classroom that can deeply enrich the law school community. “Law schools could do much more to incorporate the many talented practitioners who would be interested in this kind of serious intellectual engagement—often at little or no cost to the school,” they write. Deans and administrators can help by smoothing or eliminating administrative barriers to such practices.

The authors also suggest moving firm recruiting into the spring semester. While schools should do more to level the playing field between the private and public sectors, such as increase loan forgiveness and deferral programs, having public and private employers on campus at the same time will put those two sectors on an equal footing in hiring rather than leave one at a disadvantage because it comes later in the year. Indeed, they note, rather than hiring a summer in advance, many law firms are now delaying recruiting each year until they have a firm sense of their employment needs.

Legal skills for a global century

In “Lawyers as Professionals and as Citizens: Key Roles and Responsibilities in the 21st Century,” Ben Heineman, Jr., William F. Lee, and David B. Wilkins identify six legal “competencies” they believe are essential to success in today’s legal market.

Although every law school will ultimately have to decide for itself which competencies to emphasize, the authors stress that each should incorporate issues of globalization and governance in competing contexts: “The key point is for American law schools to take even more seriously than they have to date the reality that their graduates will increasingly live and work in a multipolar world in which the United States—and its law and legal institutions—will be only one of the frameworks that they will need to understand to operate as astute technicians, wise counselors, and effective leaders,” they write. The six competencies they identify are:

  • Business literacy. No law student—and particularly no student who is going to spend at least some of his or her career in a law firm or in-house legal department—should graduate without having a basic understanding of the tools that managers use to understand and evaluate business opportunity and risk. Among the competencies that should be emphasized in such a course are financial literacy (including accounting), firm economics, market definition, competitive strategy, supply chains, and risk assessment.
  • New technology. The increasing speed and sophistication of information technology is reshaping virtually every aspect of our world—and by every account, the rate of change will increase exponentially in the coming years. Lawyers who expect to operate in this new environment must understand how technology is reshaping the markets in which their clients compete, as well as the practice of law itself, including the use of “big data,” artificial intelligence, and process management to analyze, structure, and produce legal outcomes.
  • Decision making. Lawyers both assist clients and other constituents in reaching sound decisions and are frequently important decision makers themselves. It is therefore critical that law students receive at least an introduction to the processes and metrics of sound decision making in a variety of legal and non-legal settings where lawyers will work, including decision theory, behavioral economics, and the uses—and abuses—of statistics, economics, and other social and natural sciences.
  • Institutional design. The majority of lawyers in the United States now work in some kind of institutional setting—institutions, with respect to the lawyers in law firms and in-house legal departments, which are of increasing size and complexity. Understanding lawyers’ responsibilities within these organizations is one of the profession’s core ethical duties. Moreover, virtually all of the work that these lawyers perform is also done in the context of public and private institutions—courts, legislatures, administrative agencies, business, nongovernmental and international organizations—that have themselves become increasingly large, complex and, at times, dysfunctional. Finally, lawyers are often called upon to create new institutions of private or public ordering. All this places a premium on law students gaining at least an introductory knowledge of institutional incentives and design.
  • Teamwork across difference. In virtually every sector of legal practice—and particularly in large law firms and in-house legal departments—lawyers work primarily in teams. Moreover, these teams are increasingly diverse in every way, including demographic characteristics such as gender, race, nationality, and culture, and disciplinary characteristics, since issues lawyers confront often require collaboration with professionals from a wide range of fields. Research in a variety of settings demonstrates that these diverse teams are likely to produce superior outcomes provided that team members know how to work effectively across difference. Law schools therefore should devote significantly greater attention to teaching students how to understand and evaluate team dynamics and to work in—and lead—diverse teams effectively.
  • The ethical dimension. Lawyers will often be called upon to make decisions about how they or the institutions they advise should act in situations that go far beyond what the law and other formal rules require. Teaching students how to be sensitive to such concerns, how to identify the way they should be framed in different institutional settings, and the variety of methods for generating choices about what “ought to be” is therefore vital to their ability to act as wise counselors and effective leaders.

A better third year—or none?

While many voices call for integrating more practical skills and client-based experience into students’ education before they leave law school, others—including the president of the United States—have suggested a very different option: simply shortening law school by a year.

Michael Dworkin

Dworkin, from the Vermont College of Law, quotes an old aphorism:

In the first year we scare them to death. In the second year we work them to death. In the third year we bore them to death. That’s the experience of being a law student. Traditional legal education has kind of been wandering in the third year.

Law school is both too long and too short, Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins argue: if the third year is little more than a repetition of the first two, it’s not adding much. They suggest dramatically restructuring the third year to allow for more experiential learning, externships, or intensive study in or out of law school.

Most broadly, they suggest the third year should focus on introducing students to their roles as expert technicians, wise counselors, and astute leaders, while giving them the complementary competencies they will need to operate in these roles. Doing so, they write, “will make graduates more marketable to those entry-level employers who need lawyers who are capable of functioning in today’s increasingly complex, globalized, and multidisciplinary world, and will make these graduates better able to succeed throughout their careers.” Those are precisely the learning experiences that are likely to be cut (or at least dramatically reduced) in a two-year legal education, they say.

Depending on a student’s interest, the third year could also include going abroad and receiving a diploma or certificate from a foreign law school, writing a master’s thesis, or completing an externship or work study with faculty supervision. They support paying students for this work; another option would be a significant reduction in tuition. Indeed, a proposal to allow students to receive payment or academic credit for externships is currently being considered by the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. If approved by the Council and then the full House of Delegates in August, it would take effect this fall.

Currier is doubtful a two-year program will be approved anytime soon. Though some schools have two-year J.D.s, they accomplish this by continuing through the summer, he notes. “I don’t think the supreme courts of the states and the Bar Admissions Authority are really ready for law school to be a 60-credit experience as opposed to being a 90-credit experience.”

The Council must balance those considerations, Currier says. “We’re somewhat in the middle between what the profession wants, what the courts want, what the schools want and what the students want. We have to keep all of those things in mind.”

Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins also support offering joint degrees, such as the J.D./M.B.A., that take three years to complete as opposed to four (see “Educating the 21st Century Lawyer“). The J.D. can be profitably combined with a master’s degree for a total of a three-year program in a number of fields, such as public policy, computer science, engineering, or environmental science. However, they caution, these programs should be “simultaneous and integrated, as opposed to sequential and independent, with students having the opportunity to take courses that combine ideas, instruction, and classmates from both disciplines for at least the third year of the program.”

Learning the law vs. becoming a lawyer

As law schools tinker with their curricula, an age-old debate rages on: are students in school to learn the law, or to become a lawyer? If law schools are simply “trade schools,” some say, a fundamental aspect of what it means to study the law will be lost.

People who go to law school occupy a very broad range of professions in society everything from writing the basic foundational infrastructure of our society all the way to delivering concrete services to individuals.

David B. Wilkins

Law school has always bridged theory and practice and has also always trained for a variety of societal roles, Wilkins says. “It’s always had this quality. People who go to law school occupy a very broad range of professions in society; everything from writing the basic foundational infrastructure of our society, like the constitution of the laws and being president of the United States, all the way to delivering concrete services to individuals.”

The common thread, he says, is that in order to be a good practitioner, students have to understand what the law is and the purposes it is meant to serve. “We need more theory, but we need theory to be engaged with the realities of practice,” he says. “We need practice to respond to the realities of what the best ideas are about what law and society ought to be.”

Ultimately, learning the law and becoming a lawyer are intertwined. To be successful, Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins write,

Law schools will have to promote a far greater integration of both theoretical and practical teaching—and the faculty who tend to focus their teaching primarily around one of these two poles—than even the best law schools have been able to accomplish to date. At present, there is a sharp divide between “classroom” courses that largely focus on teaching students to understand the theory underlying law and legal institutions, and “experiential” courses, which are primarily focused on teaching students particular lawyering skills through clinical practice or simulations. This curricular divide mimics a deeper division between “theory” and “practice” that pervades much of the way that both students and faculty think about law. Indeed, in the current debate over legal education these two domains are often portrayed as a zero-sum game, in which law schools must chose to have more of one (typically practice) and less of the other (typically theory). But if law schools are to prepare students to meet the demands of their roles as astute technicians, wise counselors, and effective leaders, they will have to give students more theory and practice—and, more importantly, more integration between the two.

Case method v. case studies

From 1870 to 1895, Christopher Columbus Langdell developed and pioneered the case method at Harvard Law School. The method of studying appellate court cases gave students a retrospective window into legal reasoning. Then, in 1979, Harvard inaugurated the modern use of clinical education under Gary Bellow. Clinics focus on providing students real-world practice while they work under the supervision of senior attorneys.

In “Lawyers as Professionals and as Citizens: Key Roles and Responsibilities in the 21st Century,” Ben Heineman, Jr., William F. Lee, and David B. Wilkins suggest another innovation: case studies for attorneys in training. Modeled on the case studies used at the Harvard Business School, which describe factual, historically accurate business dilemmas, legal case studies are another way to bring practice into the classroom. Students put themselves in the shoes of a client or entity while a legal dilemma unfolds, and weigh and debate the various options available for action.

“I think it’s an interesting historical fact that Harvard Business School adopted the law school’s case method when it first started 100 years ago,” says Guhan Subramanian, Joseph Flom Professor of Law and Business at the Harvard Law School and the Douglas Weaver Professor of Business Law at the Harvard Business School. “What they did at the outset was to turn our Harvard Law School case method on its head, and rather than looking at judicial opinions after the fact, they would present a problem—a business person facing a decision. … So, in some ways Harvard Business School borrowed from Harvard Law School 100 years ago, and today Harvard Law School is borrowing a little bit from Harvard Business School in the sense of focusing more on the problem to be solved rather than the decision after the fact.”

“I think that legal education is going through a transformation and what I see in terms of pedagogy is a real shift toward problem-solving approaches as opposed to simply dissecting the case law.  And, in some ways that reflects how practicing attorneys receive problems.  It’s not in the form of an appellate opinion.  It’s in the form of a problem that the client has that you as a lawyer need to solve,” Subramanian says. “I think that’s one general shift in legal education.  I don’t think it’s much of a debate in the sense that I’m not sure there’s many people advocating for adherence to status quo. I think people are generally in agreement that we need to inject more of a problem-solving approach in our curriculum, and I believe the Harvard Law School curriculum is definitely moving in that direction.”

Diversified education—the LLLT model

Limited license legal technicians, or LLLTs, could represent another legal education innovation in the making. As legal work is unbundled in the market, law schools may eventually find themselves following suit (see “In the News”).

“One of the real problems right now is that, in order to do anything that arguably constitutes a practice of law you have to go to law school, and not just law school, but four years of undergraduate school and three years of law school, and then take a character review and pass a bar exam,” Wilkins comments. “There are lots of things that lawyers currently do that could be much more efficiently done and done in a much more reasonable time by people who didn’t have to invest that much into an education.”

Compare that to the undergraduate degree, plus one year of post-graduate education, many lawyers undertake in the United Kingdom. “We have one of the broadest monopolies in the world,” Wilkins says. “In most parts of the world, the definition of what’s reserved for lawyers and only for lawyers is much more limited than it is in the United States, and that’s partly what pushed up the cost of legal education.”

Limited licenses are in their trial phase. In a closely watched experiment, the state of Washington has approved a program that will train several dozen people a year in family law practice. Their training and outcomes will be carefully tracked by the state bar association. Other states, including California and New York, are considering the option.

The ABA’s Currier notes the resistance to such programs throughout the profession. Yet, he says, “if it costs so much to become a lawyer that you really can’t economically provide services that people need, then we either have to allow people to provide those services who aren’t fully licensed lawyers, or we have to reduce the cost of legal education so the services can be provided by a full licensed lawyer. It’s going to take some time for us to really come to grips with the dilemma that’s inherent in that.”

While a comprehensive legal education should retain the third year of school and direct it toward the complexities of contemporary practice, Wilkins says, expanding LLLTs could help resolve many of the other problems the legal profession faces—including the overwhelming cost of legal education and legal services for many. “I think the LLLTs are a step in the right direction.”

If law schools don’t start thinking deeply and broadly about who we train and how we train them, and how much cost is involved then that will happen around us and without us.

Renee Newman Knake

Knake speaks with what she calls “measured caution” about the possibilities of LLLT programs. “The profession has looked very deeply at itself in the past and tried to address these concerns,” she says. In the 1970s, she points out, many had high hopes for the possibilities of then-novel alternative dispute resolution. “That was extraordinarily helpful in bringing costs down and yet still hasn’t solved the access to a lawyer problem that is still with us.”

But, she notes, “if law schools don’t start thinking deeply and broadly about who we train and how we train them, and how much cost is involved, then that will happen around us and without us.”

New ABA standards

There is perhaps no better indication of an overall shift in legal education than changing ABA accreditation standards. In 2014, after years of review, the ABA’s Council broadened distance learning, increased credits required for experiential education (to six), and added requirements for collecting educational outcome data. “The standards sometimes lead and the standards sometimes follow,” Currier says. “In this case, I think they’re probably following.”

Skills opportunities for students have been developing for going on 30 or 40 years, he points out, starting with Harvard’s clinical program in the 1970s (see sidebar “Case method vs. case studies”). “Our rules didn’t require six credits of experiential learning a few years ago,” Currier says. “Yet experiential learning was blossoming at law schools all around the country.”

Still, he notes, “Something is coming out of the program that I had all those years ago to create space for these new experiences. … I don’t know if I’d describe it as a fight to the death here. I think we’re looking for ways in which we can both have our cake and eat it too. We’re getting better and better at the way we teach doctrine, realizing that knowing 10,000 rules isn’t as good as understanding the five or six big theoretical points that you need to get out of a course.”

Currier disagrees with those who say ABA standards should go further. “The standards are minimums to ensure that students have a rigorous education,” he says. “That’s the goal of the standards. It’s not to be the best practice. The goal isn’t to drive innovation. The goal is to basically provide a set of standards that the Supreme Courts of the states who set the rules for bar admission will think are sufficient to allow a student, a person who has an ABA-approved law school J.D. degree, to sit for his or her bar exam.

“The question is not whether or not to have standards. The question is whether you have the right standards. That said, I believe in the system that we have. I also believe that there’s a need to change parts of it. I hope that my experience reflects both the commitment to the regime and also to the necessity for some changing in the way the regime is set up.”

Currier’s background—including 19 years as a faculty member and associate dean at University of Florida Levin College of Law, then as dean of Samford University’s Cumberland School of Law, along with roles at the ABA—gives him a breadth of experience in legal education few can match. Yet it’s probably his time at Concord Law School, where he served as a founding faculty member before becoming dean, for which he’s best known.

“Whether I’m actually just more of the ‘same old, same old’ because most of my career has been in traditional education, or whether I’m the challenge to the traditional because of my time at Kaplan,” he says, “I don’t really know. I think all of those experiences are useful in my present job. Maybe people don’t think I’m qualified for this job. I’d like to say it’s finally a job that I’m qualified for.”

“I think the education that we provide students has caused them to go out and do great things,” he says. “I don’t want to completely abandon what we do. I’d just like to see us make it a little bit better in a variety of ways.”

On variances

Is the American Bar Association open to innovative legal education proposals? Barry Currier, who heads the ABA’s accrediting Council, thinks there may have been a perception—“a little bit of an urban myth”—that the Council has been unlikely to approve variances. In fact, the Council rarely received applications for any.

“I don’t know if it would be fair to say the Council is open for business in terms of variances,” he says. “I don’t think they were closed for business before. What I say to deans when I talk to them is I think if it’s a well-considered request, the Council Accreditation Committee and the Council will give it a full and fair consideration and not be looking for ways to turn it down, but rather be looking for ways to make it work.”

If a school is interested in applying for a variance—the ABA’s term for exceptions to its current standards—Currier encourages them to get in touch sooner rather than later. “I always encourage people, when you’ve got a very good idea in your mind shaped up, send us the long memo, not the short memo. Let’s see if we can provide you with at least some level of an affirmative response that would make going the next step not a waste of your time.”

Currier notes that the application process may not be ideal. “That’s something I’m not sure we’ve got exactly right. In the standards it’s kind of a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, at the end of the day process. Some of these things do take faculty time and some resources to develop. We may need to find ways to give better guidance than we’ve got at the moment.”

In the meantime, “be in contact with my office and let us do what we can,” he says. While there’s no guarantee of approval, he cautions, “We’ll do our best to give you good advice and to have some discussions with leadership when that’s appropriate. I think we should be working on ways—I wouldn’t say to encourage experimentation or variances, but to not make a barrier to getting them.”

Placement and outcomes

In the revised standards published last year, the ABA established new rules for reporting educational progress and outcomes. Currier points to those new regulations when he talks about the future of law schools. The requirements, which put into place systems of learning outcomes, assessment schemes, and other evaluation of a school’s program of legal education, he says, “should improve the sharpness and the focus of the program for the students in the school and provide a lot more information to people about what they can expect to get from a legal education and a much better basis for a school’s assessing whether they’re doing a good job.”

“What we’ve done in the standards, I think, is ask schools to develop much more of a blueprint for what it is they’re trying to do in their program. That said, there’s a wide range within which a school can operate. No particular learning outcomes are prescribed and those that are prescribed are pretty basic. There’s room for schools to have quite different missions and quite different programs to serve those missions. There’s going to be more transparency and more accountability, to use 21st century terms, in what we as accreditors know and what the students and potential students know.”

“Those learning outcomes and the assessment and evaluation requirements that are connected to them are really quite new. Much of prior education is already there. We are a trailer in this regard. Those are substantial changes.”

Uncertain futures

Where law schools go from here is certain to be hotly debated. Yet as Heineman, Lee, and Wilkins write, “The forces that are currently disrupting the legal services market are slowly but surely making their way toward even the most prestigious institutions of higher education.” Change is sure to come.

Some observers suggest a contraction in law school enrollment is not necessarily a bad thing. Long the choice of those who didn’t know what else to do, law school is no longer simply a default option. “Law school for many people is a place to find yourself, to figure out what to do next—and given the market reality, it’s a very expensive way to do that,” says Michigan State University’s Knake. “People who take the LSAT and come to law school now have to really be committed.”

“It’s a different kind of market drive,” she says, “but I think anything that causes one to really do some soul searching before they commit to a profession is an important one. … We want members of the profession who are very committed to the work that they’ve chosen to do.”

When asked her thoughts on the future of law, Knake mentions recently having read a mid-20th-century critique of legal education by Soia Mentschikoff. Mentschikoff was the first woman to teach law at Harvard and at the University of Chicago, and later the dean of the University of Miami School of Law. “I could give that speech right now, and everyone would think that I am speaking about this moment in time—that the profession is at a crisis, that lawyers are underemployed, that legal education hasn’t properly prepared students for the practice of law, and we need to look at ourselves as the educational institutions, where their legal careers began, and ask how we can better serve them and better serve the public.”

“This seems to be the kind of reflection that the profession has had to go through time and time again over the ages. In some ways, I find that comforting. I also find it inspiring, because I think it means that we have an opportunity to recalibrate and figure out what legal education should look like going forward in the 21st century,” she says. “It’s important as legal educators for us to look at how we are training and preparing our future lawyers, and we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment and be creative, and especially look to other professions and adopt their models that have been successful.”

No one would think that traditional model is well aligned to the world today, but I think we don’t really have a very good idea of what the new model is. That’s what our challenge is.

David B. Wilkins

As such, Knake takes issue with saying, as many have, that legal education or the profession are in “crisis.” The changes we’re seeing in legal education aren’t “simply just a knee-jerk reaction,” Knake says. “Instead, I think it’s part of the broader trajectory of the profession. The practice of law has to adapt to client needs and market conditions, and the way we train our lawyers has to adapt as well.”

Her role in bringing technology into legal education, both at Michigan State and in a broader context with Reinvent Law, gives her thoughts on the future role of technology in lawyers’ lives unique resonance. The robots aren’t taking over yet, she says—and aren’t likely to. “I’ve seen a lot of commentators and scholars say, ‘Well, technology is going to take away law jobs, and no one’s going to law school.’”

“As someone who passionately wants to facilitate the use of technology,” she says, “the kinds of cases that we’ve seen in the media over the past couple of weeks—especially with the decisions coming down from the Supreme Court—no computer is going to handle that legal work. That’s work that needs to be thought about and addressed by human beings, by an advocate. We have always needed lawyers, and we will always need lawyers. … Technology certainly alters the way that law is practiced, to be sure, but it doesn’t replace the importance of a trained lawyer as, really, a fundamental element of what law is.”

In the 1960s, legal education was tightly aligned to the realities of the world of law practice and the purposes for which lawyers entered that world, Wilkins says. “No one would think that traditional model is well aligned to the world today, but I think we don’t really have a very good idea of what the new model is. That’s what our challenge is.

“If we recognize the old consensus is no longer appropriate, given our understanding of both what the law is, and the legal profession and society and the world our students are going to go out to face, then what is the new consensus? I’m not saying there’s a single orthodox edict that every law school will follow, but our culture of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’ is not necessarily the best culture for producing some coherent idea about what legal education is supposed to be about and how we’re supposed to be preparing students.

“We need to be clearer about the purposes of legal education and how those purposes have changed, both at the macro and the micro levels, as society, the world, and the profession of law have changed.”

Inevitable change

It is perhaps inevitable that the technological forces roiling many industries, helped along with the advent of globalization, would eventually reach law schools’ venerable doors. The self-reflection prompted by changing market conditions and application rates may, in the end, find law schools on more solid footing. If the law has lost its former status as a sure ticket to the easy life, perhaps it will be easier for law schools to attract students who are more focused on substance than glamor.

When asked his thoughts about the future of legal education in a changing world, Wilkins sounds a positive note. “My own view is that overall the changes are probably a good thing,” he says. “If you have a segmented job market and if students are going out into different practice areas, you ought to have schools that help to prepare those students better for the practice lives that they’re actually going to enter into.

“I think it’s entirely possible that as we move through this period, law schools will be better focused around what students need. This is going to make our students better prepared, no question—and it’s entirely a reaction to the fact that all the employers are looking back more towards law school and demanding more from law school, and students are demanding more from law school to help prepare them.”


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