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

Thursday, January 3, 2019

New AALS President: 'The State Of Legal Education Is Excellent', 'State of Legal Education is Excellent,' Says New Law School Association President:

The mood might be downright jovial this week when more than 2,200 legal academics convene in New Orleans for the Association of American Law School’s annual meeting—and not just due to Bourbon Street libations.

Unlike recent meetings, when the law professors grappled with why students were staying away in droves, this year educators can contemplate whether 2018′s eight-percent increase in law school applicants means the legal academy’s fortunes have turned. caught up with Harvard law professor Vicki Jackson, who will assume the association’s 2019 presidency, to discuss her goals for the coming year and law schools’ prospects. ...

What is the state of legal education today? It seems like a year of transition.
On the whole, I think the state of legal education is excellent. I want to talk about two aspects. First, we have thankfully seen rising interest. The applicant pool rose something like 8 percent, and enrollment rose something like 3 percent. These are both, I think, very good figures. Schools are proceeding in a prudent way in responding to that interest.

My second point is about the tremendous state of innovation, public service, and pro bono work that is going on in law schools across the country. This phenomenon is not limited to any one segment of institutions of legal education in this country. I see a wealth of innovation and commitment to pro bono work that reflects the immense change that legal education has undergone since I was in law school, which was the mid-1970s.

What is your presidential theme for the upcoming year?
My theme is something I care a lot about. “Pillars of Democracy: Law, Representation, and Knowledge.” I want to talk about the central role of lawyers in building and sustaining American constitutional democracy. From the founding, when there were a whole lot of lawyers at the Constitutional Convention and in the first Congress, through to the present time when you continue to see large numbers of lawyers serving in Congress, as president, and when you look at state governments. The three pillars I want to talk about: law, elections and a fair system of representation and what I call “knowledge institutions,” all face an array of challenges. They all need work from lawyers and law faculty to move forward in a healthy way in the future.

Legal Education | Permalink


"The state of legal education is excellent."

1) Spoken by a law prof from Harvard
2) The following analysis mentions employment / salary / debt outcomes not one iota
3) Has been the standard rejoinder to all critiques of legal education since at least the MacCrate Report
4) As other Taxprof coverage has noted, even schools in the top 20 are publicly losing million in revenue and conducting layoffs (Northwestern, Minnesota, etc.)

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 3, 2019 1:45:42 PM

Hasn't she read about low bar passage rates? Does she know about law graduates' unemployment problems? Does she know about the debt accumulated by most law graduates? Does she understand that most law teaching is still based on 19th-century ideas?

What she is saying may be true for elite law schools, like Harvard, but legal education in general is Not excellent. You can't solve problems unless you admit they exist.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Jan 3, 2019 4:55:23 PM

Nothing beats complacency

Posted by: Mike Livingston | Jan 4, 2019 4:18:49 AM

It was a typo. She meant to say: "The state of legal education at Harvard, Yale, NYU, Columbia, Chicago, Stanford and several other law schools is excellent. I really don't know about many of the others but I have heard some naysayers suggest there are sporadic problems although I have been too busy to dig into the data."

Posted by: David Barnhizer | Jan 4, 2019 6:51:16 AM

I completely agree with these spot-on comments.

Professor Vicki Jackson’s perspective that the “State of Legal Education is Excellent” makes sense given the fact that Harvard and other top ten schools are currently immune from destructive market forces.

However, for the remaining law schools (including top-ranked Minnesota and Northwestern), legal education faces a strategic inflection point. A market caution: the recent slight improvement in 1L enrollments may indicate a dead cat bounce (trading concept: temporary market recovery followed by continued downward trend).

Former Intel CEO and Chair Andrew S. Grove’s book ONLY THE PARANOID SURVIVE provides valuable guidance for forward-focused, survival-oriented law school deans committed to embracing modern technologies and seizing (and creating) new legal education market opportunities. For law schools, the choice is simple: adapt to the 21st century or disappear.

If you are interested, I have written extensively on these issues. Nebraska Law Review will publish my three-part series in Spring 2019.

Legal Education: A New Growth Vision

Part I – The Issue: Sustainable Growth of Dead Cat Bounce? A Strategic Inflection Point Analysis
Part II – The Groundwork: Building A Customer Satisfying Innovation Ecosystem
Part III – The Path Forward: Being Both Human and Digital

I will upload to SSRN updated full versions of these articles soon.

Posted by: Hilary Escajeda | Jan 4, 2019 9:29:14 AM

The T-14 (maybe less) schools are in a vastly different position than the rest of the nation's law schools. Wouldn't it make a lot more sense for the AALS to choose a President who represents the vast majority of its constituency, rather than the elite which are largely insulated from the catastrophe afflicting the remainder of law schools?

Then again, maybe it's the perfect choice for such an obviously inept organization, unless they could find an ostrich with a law degree...

Posted by: Todd | Jan 4, 2019 9:46:12 AM

I forgot to mention that NALP median starting salary for the class of 2017 is 20% lower than that of the real dollar NALP median starting salary for the class of 2008. And even for the golden handcuff set, the $160k set by Simpson Thacher in January of 2007 is worth just a few hundred shy of $200,000 today, far above the sort-of Biglaw market rate of $180k.* This is before we get to the bonus schedules; in 2008 the Cravath-schedule bonuses started at $45k for first year lawyers; I believe this past year they were... $15k. At the other end of the spectrum, doc review outfits that paid $35-40/hour with OT ten years ago now pay around $20-25/hour, flat. And unemployment ten months after graduation is still stubbornly around 8%.

Oh, I see - the Harvard professor said "the state of legal education is great," not "the state of legal education OUTCOMES are great." Because why would the AALS care about those?

*Except that per the NALP itself only 62% of large law firms in NYC start at $180k, 41% in Chicago, 12% in Philly, 0.0% in Miami, etc.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Jan 5, 2019 2:04:08 PM