How is your school addressing the pressure faced by law firms to avoid staffing matters with recent law graduates?
Law schools need to produce more practice-ready – or client-ready – graduates. Historically, schools focused on teaching doctrine and the ability to analyze doctrine. These are critical tools for lawyers, but they are not enough. Clients (reasonably) expect their lawyers to be able to combine knowledge and analysis of doctrine with lawyerly skills and judgment, all in the service of understanding and solving the client’s problems.
Fortunately, there is increasing consensus on the best way to teach adult students this type of mastery: experiential learning. The 2007 Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers, suggests that, by integrating doctrine, skills, and professional identity in rich, experiential, problem-based courses, we can train our students to start acting like lawyers while they are still in law school. The result is that recent graduates, who have essentially been placed in practice situations while they are still in law school, come to resemble more traditionally trained lawyers with one or even two years of experience – lawyers that most clients would be happy to hire.
What about the automation of routine, repetitive tasks, such as discovery or basic contract drafting?
We do not know exactly what the legal work of the future will look like. But it seems safe to anticipate two trends. First, legal work that can be packaged and commoditized will be. Second, in an increasingly complex world, there will remain a large supply of legal and business problems for which clients will seek counsel. The key, therefore, is to train our students to become excellent problem-solvers. This means putting them in real and simulated problem-based courses, and having them act as members of problem-solving teams – optimally, alongside team members from other disciplines. If they have these capabilities, they will almost certainly find good, meaningful work.
How can law school faculty members, who tend to be insulated from the legal market, be motivated to embrace change?
The first thing that a school that wants to adapt to the new normal must do is to shift its focus outward – not just at the administrative level, but at the faculty level. At Denver Law, our entire faculty engaged in outreach that informed our strategic planning process. Faculty members met with a wide array of practicing lawyers and drilled down into how those lawyers saw the future of legal practice and the skills and attributes that will be necessary to be a great lawyer in the next decade. This allowed the faculty as a whole to craft a response to predicted changes. As a result, the faculty has been motivated to make that response a reality.
The second thing that a school motivated to change must do is to address impediments to change. The most valuable commodity for most professors is time (followed closely by pride). So the key is to free up time for innovation and to make innovation as efficient and as low-risk as possible. For example, once someone has developed a great problem-based simulation class, others can use the template – and sometimes even the problem – in their own classes. They can learn from the successes and failures of other innovative teachers. Historically, law professors have not had networks in their own schools that allow them to operate in this way, much less networks across schools. That is why we started Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers (ETL).
ETL provides a network for law professors across the country who are interested in innovative teaching along the lines suggested by the Carnegie Report (experiential learning that integrates doctrine, skills, and professional identity). Professors who develop innovative, Carnegie-style courses post rich information about those courses on the ETL website (www.ETL.du.edu). The course modules even include video of the courses in action. Visitors to the site can learn about a new, innovative course and how it worked, and can adopt techniques from the course – adapting them to their own classroom. Professors can also discuss the courses, either on line or at our annual ETL conferences.
ETL also provides an analogous network for law schools across the country that are committed to this type of curriculum. A consortium of 21 schools (which is growing) support the website, and meet annually to discuss how to implement and advance the type of legal education that will let us respond to the new normal.
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I am currently conducting a search for a corporate associate with 1-3 years law firm experience for a well-established, full-service business firm. The law firm represents predominantly privately-held middle market companies and entrepreneurs. An ideal candidate might be an attorney who has practiced in a large firm and who desires direct contact with clients. This position calls for an attorney who wants to work regularly with clients as both their business partner and legal counselor.