ABA Journal Legal Rebels: Law School Leaders Are Dividing Into Two Camps: Stuck v. Serious, by Paul Lippe (Founder & CEO, Legal OnRamp):
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.
The stuck camp is exemplified by the New York Times op-ed by University of California at Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky two weeks ago. ”This crisis mentality is not only unfounded, but is also creating pressure for reforms that would make legal education worse, not better.” The stuck can’t see their way to a better place, so they defend the status quo. ... The financial underpinning of law schools has been full-freight, unqualified federal student loans, which are in rapid decline and subject to tighter repayment standards—as Bill Henderson said to me the other day: “Things are better today for law schools than they will ever be in the future." ...
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. Three of the most serious deans—Phil Weiser from Colorado, Dan Rodriguez from Northwestern and Trish White from Miami—were key players at the Future of Law School Innovation conference at Colorado Law last week and see various videos linked.
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. ... The big reveal from Kembel came in his second talk. First, when he 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,” and second, when he disclosed that he himself was born prematurely, and so had a natural empathy for the “incubator problem.” ...
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. “The faculty is the heart of our law school” is common talk, but the library has been the heart of the university for 800 years. If you connect law’s biggest library with its best technologist, something design-ish is bound to happen.
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.