February 6, 2013
Howse: The Brilliant Future of America's Law Schools
The conventional wisdom -- served up one suspects with more than a soupcon of Schadenfreude by certain journalists -- is that America's law schools are a declining industry.
Application for JD slots are down-we all know that. But even assuming that's a longer-term trend rather than a reflection of th economic anxieties and difficulties of the last years, there is no reason for panic or despair. The potential of America's law schools is only starting to be realized.
The global market for US legal education was traditionally regarded as composed of a relatively small group of foreign-educated lawyers seek advanced degrees. But this changing. Increasingly, a US JD degree is an attractive option for foreign students. ... The fact is that American law schools have a competitive advantage. To be sure there is excellent legal education in some other countries. But my considerable global experience suggests to me that those countries are few. ...
Another trend is that while there is perhaps an oversupply of practicing attorneys in America (how temporary hard to know), we live in an increasingly legalized world, where the practice of many professions (including journalism!), the advanced study of other disciplines such as political science or economics, and the management of a business require a more than trivial knowledge of law. Law schools need to be imaginative in designing and packaging legal education for non-lawyers. ...
Then there is executive education. In general business schools are way ahead of us there. Some of the winds of change imply the need for more legal education throughout an attorney's lifetime, not less -- the need to be specialized and constantly renew and add knowledge based on changing markets. ...
I started as a scholar writing about industrial policy. The stories about industries able to turn the winds of change to their advantage through restructuring and redefining their markets always interested me more than those about the failure to adjust. Given the collective intelligence, knowledge and imagination in our law schools I'm bullish and, as part of the legal academy myself, proud to be.
Kevin Jon Heller (Melbourne), Rob Howse on the Future of American Legal Education (Opinio Juris):
It is nice to see someone dissenting from the conventional doom and gloom, and Rob makes a number of valuable points. But I feel compelled to take issue with (1) his description of non-American legal education, and (2) his assessment of the potential for American law schools to attract large numbers of foreign students. ...
To be sure, for students able to afford Yale, Stanford, or NYU, the additional expense of a JD may well be worth it — even taking into account that starting legal salaries tend to be much lower outside of the US. But lower-ranked schools? I don’t see it. Given the insular nature and ridiculous expense of American legal education, the primary draw for foreign students will always be the prestige of the degree-granting institution. So, far from providing salvation, I think that whatever pull the US has on foreign law students will likely do little more than exacerbate the vicious elite/non-elite division that currently characterizes American legal education.
Understandably, Kevin focuses on the aspect of my argument that concerns the foreign JD market. That may, however, give the misimpression that I view foreign JDs as a panacea. My post equally explores the importance of executive and continuing education to the future of American law schools and that we can do a great deal more to design effective programs to provide non-lawyers with elements of legal education they increasingly need to pursue their own professional and business goals.
I see a strategy of playing our strengths globally as consistent with and reinforcing of efforts elsewhere to improve the quality of legal education. And here I think the potential of mutually advantageous partnerships with foreign institutions is considerable.
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