TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Thursday, July 10, 2014

2015 AALS Annual Meeting: Legal Education at the Crossroads

AALSIn the parable of the Delta blues player, the musician considers carefully his choice: to make his pact with the Devil and preserve his guitar greatness or to take the other path. He considers this fateful decision at the crossroads. We are at the crossroads. Our law schools face critical choices: Are we going to continue on the path which, while suitable to the previous world in which we pursued glory and economic progress and our graduates took their rightful place in the generally remunerative legal economy, now has significant pitfalls and predicaments. Or are we going to take the path toward a more promising, albeit risky and uncertain, destination for our students, our faculty, our profession?

As faculty members and law school leaders, we are engaged deeply with questions concerning the efficacy of our current educational and economic model. Some prophesize the demise of this model and, with it, doom and gloom for (many? most? all?) or our member schools; others, for sure, remain ever optimistic. Moreover, we are engaged with complex questions of pedagogical strategy and educational performance. In our teaching, in our scholarship, and in our external engagement with the bench, bar, and business sector, we ask: Are we doing all we can and should to prepare our students for this dynamic new world? Ideally, these questions should be omnipresent parts of our strategies. But, realistically, they have garnered our focused attention in this era in which law schools are under pressure and, in a meaningful way, under siege.

In this difficult climate, there are good reasons to seize opportunities for self-reflection, for innovation, and for significant change in our activities and objectives. The Annual Meeting will provide a forum for novel thinking and fresh perspectives on the state of American legal education. Fruitful ideas will include both the incremental and the profound. We are at the crossroads true; and the choices we make in the coming years will shape powerfully the structure of our profession – not only the academic profession of law teaching, but the profession of law more generally. We welcome all constructive voices; we ask of you your most ambitious imagination.

Daniel B. Rodriguez
AALS President and Dean, Northwestern University School of Law

Conferences, Legal Education | Permalink


Law professors have nothing to worry about if their law school downsizes them, since they can readily use their legal skills in the real world, and they will have no problem finding jobs with the same compensation and work schedule (including summer vacation) in the private sector.

Posted by: Andy Patterson | Jul 10, 2014 5:29:57 AM

Andy, I'm as critical of certain aspects of legal education (including faculty compensation) as the next guy, but can we give the pointless invective a little bit of a rest?

It's a good thing that AALS is deciding to focus on reform in legal education and hopefully the inclusion of "fresh perspectives on the state of American legal education" means that the conference will give real consideration to some of the criticisms coming from outside the academy.

Will real steps need to be taken in the wake of the conference? Obviously. But law faculties are stakeholders in legal education reform too. Not only that, they are stakeholders without whom meaningful reform is not practically possible. We should applaud a decision to openly discuss the problems and potential solutions facing legal education and the profession. Renewing the same, tired pokes at law faculties writ large does nothing to facilitate the reform that's needed.

Posted by: Former Editor | Jul 10, 2014 7:48:06 AM

"[F]aculty members and law school leaders . . . are engaged deeply with questions concerning the efficacy of our current educational and economic model." Maybe so. But I would feel a whole lot better if the people who were deeply engaged with these issues were people who actually had some experience in what the legal profession needs today. People such as practicing lawyers.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 10, 2014 1:57:14 PM

FE, we're talking about Dan Rodriguez here. While he's always willing to listen and debate, I don't think he understands exactly what the problem is. I get that impression because he thinks that if law schools could just develop an "innovative" (I always bletch when I hear that word) curriculum employers are going to be lining up to hire law students (the exact nature of this curriculum, of course, needs to be determined by the all-knowing, all-powerful "market"). This shows a fundamental misunderstanding of how much control law schools have over the employment market and the limits of what steps they can take to increase demand for their graduates.

If the centerpiece of the convention was "how can we continue to operate while charging 10K a year with class sizes responsive to the local hiring market." I'd be more optimistic.

Posted by: BoredJD | Jul 11, 2014 10:13:49 AM