A Change -in Legal Education – is Gonna Come (with apologies to Sam Cook)
I attended the ABA Workshop for Law School Dean on being a law school dean in tough times. It had the expected advice about how to weather the current economic storms. But there was also a not so veiled undercurrent: the old strategies may not work this time because legal education is undergoing a sea change.
I am in that camp. Economic and educational forces are combining in ways that will create a different world in which law schools will operate and lawyers will practice.
What are the economic forces?
- Law firms are shedding jobs that are not likely to be re-created when the recession ends.
- The remaining jobs will not pay so much as before.
- Students will be reluctant to take on large debt unless there are jobs waiting for them.
- Law Firms will demand job-ready applicants
What are the educational forces?
- Calls for fundamental legal education reform are gaining momentum
- The ABA is moving toward outcome-based accreditation standards
- Students are demanding different approaches and want to see value for their tuition dollars.
In my view, schools that are mission driven and can measure their effectiveness will thrive. This means that life as law schools have known it for the last 20 years is over: if rankings survive, they will have take into account the new value that students will seek. And law schools will not be able to pump up tuition without regard to student debt load. And the faculty salad days may be over.
Perhaps it will create a caste system for law school but, as UMKC Dean Ellen Suni said, “So what? We’ve got that already.” Perhaps, mission driven schools will be able to pursue their vision and prospective students will recognize our value. (BTW, the Sam Cook original may be one of the greatest R & B songs ever. IMHO).