Friday, May 15, 2015
Eric C. Chaffee (Toledo), Answering the Call to Reinvent Legal Education: The Need to Incorporate Practical Business and Transactional Skills Training into the Curricula of America's Law Schools, 20 Stan. J.L. Bus. & Fin. 121 (2014):
The legal academy must make the conscious decision to change, or the pressures upon it will combine to transform legal education in ways that may be extremely harmful. The media, the law school applicant pool, the job market, the legal profession, and the legal academy itself have created an unprecedented need for reimagining legal education.
To address these issues, the legal academy should begin with a variation of a question that Professor Ronald Gilson asked decades ago: What could lawyers really do? This is because the legal academy will only remain strong if legal education provides a pathway to careers for its graduates. Lawyers already do an excellent job of occupying the courtroom, which leaves them major opportunities for expansion into the boardroom and other business environments. As a result, the legal academy should be asking an even narrower question: What could business lawyers really do? Legal education must prepare graduates to survive and thrive in business environments, and it must train students with the necessary competencies to become business lawyers in the broadest sense of that term. As recent predictions from the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics, despite average growth in the legal field with strong competition for jobs, the demand for human resources specialists, management analysts, health services managers, medical records technicians, financial advisors, and other business-related fields will increase dramatically within the next decade. The legal academy must work to prepare graduates to compete for those jobs in addition to traditional legal careers.
Although refocusing legal education to include business and transactional skills training does create some valid concerns, the benefits of building business competencies in law school graduates far outweigh the harms. Because of variations among law schools, a bespoke implementation strategy is needed for any law school undertaking this task. This Article offers various roadmaps for reform as a starting point for a meaningful discussion of curricular change. The legal academy must fight to reclaim the ground that it is losing to legal studies departments in business schools. Legal education currently imparts high quality critical thinking and communication skills, and the legal academy must ensure that its graduates are prepared to take those skills into the world, especially into business environments.