TaxProf Blog

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Hadfield: Law Schools Are Letting Down Their Students And Society — A 3-Point Plan To Fix Legal Education

Quartz: Law Schools Are Letting Down Their Students and Society—Here Are Three Steps They Can Take to Fix Things, by Gillian Hadfield (USC; Member, ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Education):

Law schools in the US today have become depressingly single-purpose: training members of a closed profession and failing to equip them to tackle the full breadth of problems facing economies and societies that are undergoing extensive transformations.

Law schools are letting down their students. They’re requiring anyone who wants to do any type of legal work, even the pro-forma and routine, to enroll in three years of graduate school and take on an average debt of $140,000, all the while facing dwindling job prospects.

This is bad news for students. But it is even worse news for the rest of us. Today’s law schools are graduating hordes of would-be lawyers who are not prepared to respond to, or innovate new solutions for, the pressing legal and regulatory needs of citizens and businesses alike. ...

Today’s law schools are increasingly chasing their own tails, with the holy grail still being a coveted job in a big law firm that serves large corporations. Meanwhile, roughly 90% of Americans dealing with legal matters do so without legal help. And as I have found in my research, even big businesses are unhappy with what is available to them. In a 2011 survey, 70% of global executives reported that law and regulation were the greatest causes of complexity in their businesses.

Conventional legal education, modeled on a system invented at Harvard in 1870, teaches students how to “think like a lawyer”, and how to spot potential legal issues. Practical training happens on the job. During the heyday of the industrial nation-state economy, this worked pretty well. ...

What we need now is greater diversity, new methods, and better engagement with the real world. To get the broad and deep innovation in law that we need, we have to fix legal education.

Step one is to shift from the top-down approach that the ABA now takes in overseeing how people are admitted, taught, and tested in law schools to an approach that emphasizes testing what people can actually do before they enter practice. The profession should focus on its remit of ensuring legal services providers are useful, competent and honest, and leave it up to universities, colleges, and other training organizations to find the best way to produce people who meet those standards....

Step two is to shift from an emphasis on book knowledge to practical wisdom in establishing the requirements for licensure. ... Law would do well to follow the model in medicine: test law students early in their educational careers to make sure they have acquired basic legal knowledge. Then focus ultimate qualification on candidates’ ability to actually listen to solve real legal problems encountered by real clients.

Step three is to move away from the idea that one-size fits all when it comes to legal training and competence.  ... 

The reform of legal education could bring benefits in the form of economic growth, access to justice, and ongoing legal innovation to meet the challenges of the 21st century, as well as reducing the burden of debt on the next generation of legal professionals. And this may even turn around the declining number of students choosing to go into law.

Legal education matters. Not just for law students, but for all of us.

Legal Education | Permalink