Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Washington & Lee Is the Biggest Legal Education Story of 2013

W&L LogoThe Legal Whiteboard:  Washington & Lee is Biggest Legal Education Story of 2013 (pdf here):

Here it is in a nutshell. There is empirical evidence that Washington & Lee’s experiential 3L curriculum is delivering a significantly better education to 3L students—significantly better than prior graduating classes at W&L, and significantly better than W&L’s primary competitors. Moreover, at a time when total law school applicants are on the decline, W&L’s getting more than its historical share of applicants and getting a much higher yield. When many schools are worried about revenues to survive next year and the year after, W&L is worried about creating the bandwidth needed to educate the surplus of students who enrolled in the fall of 2012, and the backlog of applicants that the school deferred to the fall of 2013. ...

Alas, now we know:  There is a market for high quality legal education. It consists of college graduates who don’t want to cast their lot with law schools who cannot guarantee students entree to meaningful practical training.  Some might argue that W&L is not objectively better -- that the 3L curriculum is a marketing ploy where the reality falls well short of promotional materials and that, regardless, prospective students can't judge quality.

Well, in fact there is substantial evidence that the W&L 3L program delivers comparative value.   The evidence is based on several years' worth of data from the Law School Survey of Student Engagement (LSSSE). I received permission from Professor James Moliterno, someone who took a leadership role in building W&L’s third year program, to share some of the key results (each school controls access to its LSSSE data.). ...

There are three takeaways from this blog post:

  1. A sizeable number of prospective students really do care about practical skills training and are voting with their feet.  W&L has therefore become a big winner in the race for applicants. 
  2. W&L's 3L experiential curriculum is substantial improvement over the curriculum W&L offered in 2004 and 2008; moreover, there is room for even more improvement.
  3. There is substantial evidence that W&L, with some modest focused energy on the curriculum, is now offering a better educational experience than its peer schools --  albeit, the current grade is a "B" at best for W&L and likely lower for the rest of us.  We all, therefore, have a lot of work to do.

The example of the Washington & Lee 3L experiential year ought to be a watershed for legal education. We can no longer afford to ignore data.  Through LSSSE, high quality comparative data are cheap and comprehensive.  And that information, as we have seen, can significantly improve the value of a legal education.

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And how is that working out for your students, Prof. Livingston?

Even if all of this curriculum reform could actually have a significant effect on job placement, it's only shifting those jobs from one schools grads to another. It's not creating jobs. It's does nothing to address the real problem -- way too many schools pumping out way too many grads.

Posted by: john | Jan 30, 2013 2:02:19 PM

We've been doing practical training at Rutgers for twenty-five years, and we didn't have to wait for a "crisis" to do so.

Posted by: michael livingston | Jan 30, 2013 2:00:11 AM