Like many in legal education, I have been obsessed with reading everything I can get my hands on regarding: 1) the restructuring of the demand for legal services in the “new economy” and 2) hmmm, what is a less negative word than “crisis” or “tsunami?”, ah yes, the – “revolution” in legal education formed by the combination of student debt , fewer JD jobs, and plummeting admissions. “Must” readings include, Bill Henderson’s analysis of the restructuring of the market for legal services (see Henderson’s blog post here and article here ), the Law School Admission Council’s LSAC Volume Report 2013 (with data as of January 3013), Dean Frank H. Wu’s letter to the ABA Taskforce (see ABA post located here and Dean Wu’s letter here) and Richard Susskind’s newest book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” The bottom line trends are: 1) law schools will be fewer, smaller, and, other than the top 14, less lucrative; and 2) those with law degrees need to possess more than just the traditional trademark tools of critical reasoning, substantive and procedural knowledge, and understanding of the attorney-client relationship. In short, in order to survive, law schools need to re-imagine their identity, structure, cost-to -value ratio, and resource allocation to meet the demands of the new economy. And when doing so, they must equip students and graduates for a broader, more creative, more collaborative and more entrepreneurial use of their law degree.
This combination of reduction in class sizes and the need for law graduates to have more well-rounded skill sets to compete for “new economy” jobs has already and will continue to affect law school curricular offerings, organization and priorities. In particular, legal education’s traditional understanding of the actual and relative cost of clinic courses is dramatically changing in this cost-value economic model. What do I mean? Deans (and their admissions and career planning directors) often state how they really want more clinical experiences in which students assume the role of the lawyer under good supervision. However, the narrative continues, in- house clinics and well supervised and designed externship/field placements courses just “cost too much” compared to the low cost of putting a faculty member in front of a class of 50-100 students and letting them have at it! In other words, the old narrative holds that the actual “cost” of clinic courses is not about express value to the students, alums, and employers, but its relative cost vis
Over the past decade and particularly since the global recession, that narrative has broken down, as law schools compete with each other to be the most bold and “innovative” in re-structuring their curricula or creating an entirely “experiential” third year . And economically, that has made much sense. As admission numbers plunge so does the faculty student ratio and, thus, the relative costs of making law schools focus more on the development of its students has radically declined. In addition, clincal faculty and programs have had to evolve beyond the early days of replicating legal services or public defender offices and have matured into educational programs with expanded subject matter and skills focus and beyond traditional representation and litigation models.
However, many in legal academia have not advanced their thinking to keep up with the new economic analysis. In fact, I would recommend that all concerned with the future of legal education and its cost read Professor Peter Joy’s wonderfully helpful 2012 article THE COST OF CLINICAL LEGAL EDUCATION (also here) as well as the charts and appendices connected with Professors Liz Ryan Cole and Nancy Maurer’s piece on field placements and externships found at 19 Clinical Law Review 115, 155-161 (2012) I fear that many in legal education still shake their heads and regretfully and sincerely but quite inaccurately echo the outdated analysis that in these troubled times , “clinics cost too much”. The relative faculty/student ratio is changing everywhere and that is making appropriately designed and updated clinical courses less “expensive” everyday under any cost-value ratio and even under the reductive and incomplete “relative cost” analysis.
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