William D. Henderson (Indiana), Supercharging Lawyer Development Through Feedback:
I am a law professor. My job is to educate future lawyers. Experience has shown me that the best way to accelerate the development of legal skills is to provide more and better feedback to my students.
But feedback is expensive. It takes time to deliver intensive feedback. Moreover, feedback can be difficult emotional labor, as it is unpleasant to deliver bad news. Further, defensiveness is a relatively common reaction, so one has to be prepared to marshal facts and examples to show that the feedback is objective, fair, and accurate.
To compound matters, there are few if any institutional rewards for giving developmentally rich feedback,1 partially because it is difficult to measure the quality of feedback and its impact on lawyer development, and partially because scholarship remains the primary coin of the realm among university educators.
For all of these reasons, the majority of law school coursework involves very little feedback beyond a letter grade derived from a single end-of-the-term exam. Because high-quality feedback can accelerate lawyer professional development and is likely a winning strategy for any law school or law firm seeking to take market share, we are likely to see more of it in the years to come.
Drawing upon my experience as an educator who works closely with law firms and studies the legal profession, I am willing to wager on two predictions that others might find fanciful or utopian.
Prediction No. 1. In the years to come, great law schools will be judged by two criteria: First, the acquisition of complex and relevant domain knowledge in law and allied fields, and second, the creation of high-quality, reliable feedback loops that accelerate the acquisition and development of valuable professional skills.
Prediction No. 2. Within 20 years, and possibly much sooner, a new class of legal service organizations will emerge whose competitive advantage will be rooted entirely in innovation and value-based offerings. Further, the signature feature of these organizations will be teams working in feedback-rich environments — feedback from supervisors, feedback from peers, feedback from subordinates, and, most importantly, feedback from clients.