Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Rodriguez: Innovation In Legal Education Is A Data Desert

Dan Rodriguez (Northwestern), Innovation in Legal Education Is a Data Desert:

We are headlong into a period in which law schools, when considered as a whole, are working hard on innovation. This innovation pertains to the full gamut of law school operations and activities. ...

The direction of change in the modern American law school is a positive one, and there are real reasons to be encouraged – indeed enthusiastic – about the momentum that close observers and stakeholders see in our long-conservative academy.

But yes there is a “however,” and that is this:  Many of these strategic efforts at real innovation are taking shape without adequate data.  To a remarkable and troubling extent, law school innovation is a data desert.  We develop natural experiments, we try out initiatives which we hope will move the needle, and yet we scarcely build upon real data – not never, but not enough.

This post has a blunt polemical point and it is this:  Legal educators must develop effective data; we must overcome whatever collective action problems stand in the way of developing these data; we must take scrupulous care to analyze data in creating and implementing reform strategies; and we must, in the end, make change on the basis of evidence wherever possible, not conjecture.

Facts and data have long remained elusive in the law school ecosystem.  What particular law schools do by way of data is of course case specific and it would be hard to generalize.  I can say from my own experience, which includes full-time service at four diverse law schools, and service as dean at two law schools for a total of nearly fourteen years, that we are fundamentally inadequate, and at times border on the functionally illiterate, when it comes to collecting, synthesizing, and analyzing data. ...

In a subsequent post, I will discuss in more depth the kinds of data which can be and ought to be collected in order to advance the mission of a thoroughly evidence-based approach to law school innovation and reform. There is much work to do, and data is essential to this work.

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