Thursday, January 7, 2016
A Moral Imperative - a Problem with Promise
We have a problem - legal education costs to much. Like most problems thought it comes with a promise, whoever is first to reimagine legal education successfully while making it financially viable will own the future - and the future is now.
Depending upon the statistics you choose to quote, a law degree costs somewhere between roughly 84,000 dollars for a state school and 122,000 for a private school. See http://www.admissionsdean.com/paying_for_law_school/law-school-cost-calculator and http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertfarrington/2014/12/18/law-school-and-student-loan-debt-be-careful/. This figure, of course, does not include any debt incurred for undergraduate degrees or other advanced degrees. This fact alone, in conjunction with the multiple stressors experienced by the big firm market, has resulted in a new general belief - for many, law school is not worth the price of admission. Think about that for a moment, the world has fundamentally changed its perception of the value of a law degree over the last 4 years. This slide occurred quickly, and shows no signs of slowing down. Law schools are now experiencing market stressors for which the vast majority of law professors have no frame of reference. It is difficult to find a time in modern legal education, at least since the advent of the Langdelian method of instruction, to use as a guideline when dealing with what now confronts us all.
Law professors, by their very nature, tend to be both risk adverse and insular - they don’t like change. They particularly do not like change when they have been the driving force in the known history of their institution. You cannot blame them for their reticence to consider the idea of transforming the legal education experience. Unfortunately any school that finds itself ranked below the top 50 in U.S. News and World Report is now spending a great deal of time working to “define” themselves so that they may maintain market share. Now market share is not an idea that law schools are comfortable with, but in the ever shrinking world of fewer students, lower budgets, and increased financial stressors on parent universities it is a dirty little reality that cannot be ignored.
We law professors have a moral duty to our students, and one that we cannot pay short shrift to any longer. We must think in a practical and entrepreneurial fashion about the future structure of a legal education experience and we must move quickly to accomplish this change - or risk the loss of our institutions as we know them. I want to suggest today that we might be able, as an academy, to find some common values that should inform the entrepreneurial decisions we must make. Think of them as the best of what should be brought forward combined with the promise of the future. If we begin with a focus on what we value, and then structure our future programs around those values we have a chance to remain relevant, to assist in the rebirth of a valid legal educational experience. But we must do so soon.
So where should those values come from? From both the academic and practical world. They must be values that exist in both places or they are not worth spending our limited resources on. So what would be on your list? Mine would include the following, and as many of you might expect knowing me, it has only three primary components at the meta level :
1. Professional Identity and Personal Ethics
2. Understanding the law
3. Applying the law
These three considerations should permeate the curriculum, existing in every course, extracurricular activity or faculty service opportunity. If we were to use these three guiding concerns as an agreed upon starting point for reworking the law school experience we could protect the best parts of our scholarly heritage, reenergize our usefulness to the practicing bar, and become more connected to the legal world outside of the walls of our personal ivory towers. It would make for a very different educational experience, one with the potential to be truly immersive. It will also require a different type of law professor, a different administrative structure, and the support, real support, of both the ABA and the AALS if it were to stand a chance of success.
The entire structure of law school should be reorganized around these three guiding principles. Doing this would transform the educational experience for students, and allow law professors to think anew, to learn again, to become students of the educational process, as opposed to overseers of a antiquated approach. The time is now to change, or run the risk of becoming irrelevant. Next time I will put forth some specific ideas about how a law school might structure the learning experience around these core values.
All the best,
Posted by Charlie Rose at 12:05 AM