Forbes: Law Schools' Lost Opportunity, by Mark A. Cohen (CEO, LegalMosaic; Fellow, Northwestern Center for Practice Engagement and Innovation):
Law schools have ceded an opportunity to shore up their balance sheets and to do right by grads, the legal industry, and the broader society. How? They have failed to transition from three-year degree stopovers to learning centers for life that upskill grads and other professionals throughout their careers. This would have created “stickiness” with alumni/ae throughout their professional lives and transformed law schools into lifetime learning hubs. In the digital age where competency, micro-credentialing, collaboration, upskilling, people-skills, and agile learning are critical, law schools are relics of the legal guild. Why?
There are a legion of explanations: complacency, detachment from the University—notably the business, engineering, computer science, and mathematics schools-- as well as the broader legal ecosystem and business community, faculty composition/hiring criteria, the American Bar Association’s ineffective law school accreditation oversight, and absence of accountability and performance metrics—especially student outcomes, and self-regulation. Law schools are an island that has become increasingly detached from the broader legal mainland.
The inertia of law schools, like law firms, went unchallenged for decades. Their applicant pool was plentiful, the job market was robust, the curricula were unchanged and unchallenged, and they were cash positive. That rosy picture fueled the growth and proliferation of law schools from the 1980’s until the global financial crisis of 2008. The confluence of that economic maelstrom and its aftermath coincided with rapid advances in technology, the ever- escalating cost of law school and its three-year hitch, a downturn in the legal job market, and disaggregation of a growing number of “legal” tasks. This resulted in the migration of young talent away from law and into other professional service and business careers.
Law School Stasis In An Age of Disruption
Law schools have largely failed to engage in material reform during the post-financial crisis decade, especially the top-tier ones. Their inertia has contributed to an ever-widening skills gap in the legal industry, a challenge and opportunity law schools have failed to respond to meaningfully. Law schools—like firms for whom they have long served as supply sources-- have failed to align with and adapt to a changing marketplace. The ramifications affect the entire legal ecosystem and beyond. Law schools continue to prepare grads to “think like a lawyer” even as the function, role, skillsets, workplace, and career paths of lawyers are changing dramatically. ...
The New Tools For Success
Competency, not diplomas, dictates marketplace success in the digital age. Diplomas still matter, of course, and so does the granting institution’s brand. But exposure to a new suite of augmented skill sets is what really matters, especially after one’s first gig. The core skills required of legal professionals—apart from baseline legal knowledge—are common among other industries in the digital age, a time when traditional boundaries separating professions/industries are increasingly blurred. ...
New Courses Don’t Necessarily Translate to Marketable Skills
Law schools have recently introduced many new courses, but few address the skills gap. Legal tech courses are proliferating, for example, but few provide a technological use-case , competitive market analysis, design planning, cost/time to develop, etc. Legal entrepreneur courses, another hot offering, are often taught by professors with no entrepreneurial experience and little knowledge of the marketplace. Sexy as these courses might be for students, why not focus on building block courses like business, data analytics, and digital transformation basics for lawyers? These are foundational elements for all lawyers and legal professionals and are marketable. ...
Law Schools Are Focused on New Revenue Streams, Not Solutions to Systemic Challenges
Most law school Deans pay considerable attention to new revenue streams to stanch their fiscal bleeding. While this is understandable, it does not address the underlying systemic challenges their schools face— educational structure/curricula; an unsustainable economic model; outmoded faculty configuration including preference for PhD’s, not practitioners, and relegation of adjuncts (practitioners) to marginal status and pay. This short-term fiscal fix does nothing to advance the interests of students, alums in need of upskilling, providers, clients, and society at large. ...
Who Will Solve The Legal Industry’s Skills Gap?
If the legal Academy does not take the lead to solve the legal industry’s skills gap who will? Short answer: Government, the private sector, and a handful of academic institutions that have forged strong marketplace ties and tailor their curricula to its needs. Here are some examples.
The legal industry’s skills gap is real, pressing, and global. The problem can no longer be ignored, even if most law schools choose to. The tools, resources, capital, collaborative mindset, and expertise required to tackle it at scale exist. It’s up to law schools to decide whether they remain the problem or collaborate in its solution.