I spent a delightful day yesterday at the Pepperdine Law Review symposium on The Lawyer of the Future. I moderated the closing panel on Training Future Lawyers, which focused on a presentation by Jim Moliterno (Washington & Lee) based in part on his forthcoming book, A Profession in Crisis (Oxford University Press, 2013). I was particularly struck by Jim's observation that the root cause of the troubles facing legal education today can be traced to a fateful choice made 130 years ago: medical schools decided that their mission would be to turn out doctors, while law schools decided that their mission would be to turn out law professors. Jim described Washington & Lee's attempt to better equip students for legal practice through its innovative third year curriculum:
In these courses, students are urged to make the transition from student to lawyer. Students continue to learn law, but now do so as lawyers do, with a client’s need as the driver, rather than as students do, with a three hour exam as the driver. In such circumstances, students transition to the thought processes of lawyer-problem-solver and away from learning for no more reason than acquiring knowledge. This kind of third year can be a year with one foot in the academy and one in the practice. Far from exclusively skills courses, these courses develop habits of the lawyer’s mind that are not developed in the traditional courses aimed at appellate legal analysis.
During the ensuing roundtable discussion, Paul Carrington (Duke) challenged us all to work to reduce the cost of law school and the debt load borne by our students in a time of declining job opportunities amidst structural contraction in the legal profession (as chronicled by Bill Henderson (Indiana) in the earlier panel on Lawyers in Modern Practice).