The Winter Solstice and Legal Education: Redemption as a Secular Goal

It is December in America.  I am saddened by the violence of and in our world.  I am resistant to the commercialized obligations of “the Hoilidays”. And I long for time to reflect upon the darkness so that I can move forward into the light.

I know that this December frustration and sadness will pass. Although the longest night of the year is just upon us, unlike my ancestors, I do not doubt that the sun will come again and that the days will become longer.  I know that despite my pre-solstice grumblings, I will treasure the exchange of love. friendship and care that accompanies meaningful moments of human connection at this time of year.  I know that from the darkness , there will be light —  whether from a winter sky stuffed with stars, Advent wreaths, Juul fires, Shabbat lightings,  twinkling Christmas trees,  Chawmos bonfires,  or a child’s flashlight (hidden under the covers for continued reading of a favorite gift).

Reflecting on the darkness that seems to surround us in legal education is another matter. I wonder  “ will the students come back?”  Will the pool of those applying to law schools  simply become perpetually smaller?   Certainly, bashing  law schools has continued to have traction over the past year.   And given the grim overall  admissions data the  “trending” message does seem to be   “Why would anyone go to law school?”

Here too, however, we should not confuse tough times or dark days with inevitable extinction of all light. The information about law school debt-salary ratio is no longer “newsworthy” despite continued rants .  The “law schools are evil”  narrative is now overused, often exploited , and certainly reductive.   What is more likely to be newsworthy are calls for some balance in the bashing. See Is It Worth It? and Law School Placement Ethics. Attention is finally being given to thoughtful analysis such as that contained in Dean Frank H. Wu’s letter to the ABA Taskforce on the future of legal education. See Practice of Legal Education and The Problem With Legal Education.

Long before the publication of Failing Law Schools, before the filing of  lawsuits over student consumer issues and fraud, and before the media’s heightened if not histrionic scrutiny of law schools,  many thoughtful voices  such as those contained in the 1960’s CLEPR recommendations, the 1979 Crampton Report,  the 1997  MacCrate Report,  the 2007 Carnegie Report and CLEA’s Best Practices for Legal Education had cautioned legal educators.   They warned first  that law schools had lost their way, and second,  that legal education needed to become more innovative, responsive , collaborative and intentional.   Although one could view the litany of reports as proof that the previous report had no effect, that is not the case.  Legal education has changed in many, many ways since 1960. It just hasn’t changed enough.

More than not changing enough, legal education, like most of America and like the legal profession itself,  “lost its way” during the economic boom.  And legal education did so, in my opinion, because it lost sight of its most treasured asset – the responsibility to guide the formation of people who serve as civic professionals and leaders.

Redemption seems to me be a good place to focus for 2013.  And I’m not talking about the Christian definition of redemption or the Christian movement to redeem law schools or law.  I’m talking about the universal concept of redemption  which involves admitting failings, making amends and recommitting to the journey.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s  first definition of “redeem”  involves buying, repurchasing or winning back. The second involves:

2.  to free from what distresses or harms: as

a.  to free from captivity by payment of ransom
b.  extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental
c.  to release from blame or debt: clear
d. to free from the consequence/consequences of sin

It is the third definition that best describes the process of redemption and this Blog’s focus since  it’s inception:

3.  to change for the better: reform

For 2013, I want to hear how law schools are redeeming themselves or plan to do so.  How have we changed for the better?  How are we extricating ourselves from what was harmful and detrimental to students, the profession and society?  How are we “saving our souls”? I look forward to hearing these stories of illumination.   Peace and Joy to all our Blog readers!

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