Federal district courts in New York and the District of Columbia have rejected challenges to the Department of Education’s “gainful employment rule”. A recent story in The American Lawyer, “New Rule Spells Trouble for For-Profit Law Schools”, explains how the DOE gainful employment rule will likely affect for-profit law schools. The gainful employment rule, which is based on graduates’ annual incomes and their discretionary incomes, requires a for-profit school’s graduates to have debt payments that are 8% or less of their annual incomes, or 20% or less of their discretionary incomes. A school fails the test if student debt payments exceed 12% of annual incomes or 30% of discretionary incomes. A school is considered “in the zone” if loan payments of graduates are greater than or equal to 12% of their annual incomes, or payments are greater than 10% but less than or equal to 30% of discretionary incomes. A for-profit school becomes ineligible for federal loans if it fails both the annual income and discretionary income tests in any two of three years, or if it fails both tests or is in the zone for four years. The story also explains that graduates’ enrollment in income-based repayment programs is not considered in the government’s application of the new rule. The American Lawyer story contains tables that project how the rule could be applied based on available debt, income, and employment information for graduates at the six for-profit law schools. The DOE gainful employment rule goes into effect July 1, 2015.
A conversation with one of our University of Washington alums — Leo Flor, Westpoint grad, Gates Public Service Law Scholar, Equal Justice Works Fellow at Northwest Justice Project, and spark plug for the new resource Representing Washington Veterans — has me chewing on whether we need a new understanding of what a “generalist legal education” means.
Leo noted that the JD is often viewed as a relevant generalist credential, even though most law school grads move into traditional bar-passage-required “law practice” jobs. And he observed that many job postings for alternative positions list an MBA or MPA as a relevant qualification, but not the JD.
The traditional generalist education of my era, and to a significant extent still, was intended to teach a set of analytical skills and and expose students to a broad range of legal doctrine potentially relevant to a general practitioner and to passing the bar exam. Though passing the bar remains important and is a significant factor in designing the educational program for lower tier schools, few 21st century lawyers are truly general practitioners.
Perhaps the generalist foundation needed in this era is built on skills, more than doctrinal knowledge. And for Leo’s purpose not only skills in a technician sense. Skills also in a “professional identity” sense. Self-awareness & understanding of ones’ own gifts. Leadership and interpersonal skills. Such an understanding of generalist could make the JD an appropriate credential for the types of job Leo described.
In a previous post, I suggested that that, at least for those students who come to law school with significant self-knowledge and experience, a substantively specialized curriculum could make sense, if combined with the general analytical and research skills to learn new areas. This is not a new idea. Back in 2002 then-law-student Kevin E. Houchen self-published a detailed review of the trend toward certificate programs and concentrations, arguing that for a subset of students such specialization makes sense.
And in early May of this year 2015 at the National Summit on Innovation in Legal Services sponsored by the ABA and Stanford Law School, speakers reiterated these themes. Richard Susskind (13:08) argued that legal education needs to train graduates for 21sth century jobs like legal project managers, legal process analysts, legal knowledge engineers, and legal risk management. Prof. Deborah Rhode(13.29) observed that it “makes no sense to train Wall Street M &A lawyers the same way we train someone who’s going to be doing routine real estate and divorce work in a small town.”
It is not so very difficult to understand what acting on Prof. Rhode’s observation might mean. As a practical matter, some curricular differentiation based on where graduates will practice already takes place, linked primarily to different levels in the law school hierarchy. Beyond that, many schools offer an extensive enough curriculum – both in doctrine and skills — to permit considerable specialization aimed at traditional law practice niches, even beyond formal concentration tracks and certificate programs.
For more specialized training law schools that offer extensive LL.M. programs routinely allow students to complete an accelerated JD/LL.M in three calendar years. In the tax field, where the LL.M. has long been de rigueur, many schools provide such opportunities, including NYU, the long-time leader in tax LL.M’s. And increasingly, schools educate students not just in substantive tax specialties, but also — using my own school, the University of Washington as an example — with tax-focused skills and clinical training for both JD. and LL.M. students.
My hunch is that increasing numbers of students already opt to specialize, sometimes with a substantive law focus, often combined with a skills focus, e.g. corporate deals with drafting or criminal & tort law with trial advocacy.
A key challenge for law schools is to learn how to identify prospective students or develop admitted ones who understand their life goals and values, and their intellectual and personal gifts well enough to make intelligent decisions around specialization. To meet that challenge, a holistic approach to education is needed –whether understood in the MacCrate framework of knowledge, skills and values, or the Carnegie framework of cognitive, professional skills and ethical professional identity apprenticeships.
Filed under: Best Practices & Curriculum, Best Practices & Setting Goals, Best Practices for Institutional Effectiveness | Tagged: best practices for legal education, generalist, law school, law schools, leadership, legal education, legal education reform, Maranville, professional identity, reforming legal education, skills, specialist | 1 Comment »
At the recent AALS Conference on Clinical Education two additional sessions provided important insights from experts iin other disciplines on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.
Wednesday;s Mini-Plenary on Counseling Our Students In the New Normal included an inspiring guest speaker who was even more impressive as a listener.
Moderated by Mercer’s Tim Floyd, the session began with a helpful overview of the current state of the job market (bottom line: recovering, slowly) by Abraham Pollack, GW’s Professional Development dean. But the centerpiece of the session was Carolyn McKanders, Co-Director and Director or Organizational Culture, Thinking Collaborative and, not incidentally, mother of Tennessee’s Karla McKanders,
Carolyn brilliantly demonstrated “cognitive coaching” (check out the app!) in an unscripted coaching session that allowed Mary Lynch (yes, that Mary Lynch, Editor of this blog) to expand her acting career into improv. The session was designed to help Mary think through her goals and approaches in counseling students on career development in an environment where predictable and linear career tracks are no longer the norm.
After the role play Carolyn summarized three keys to cognitive coaching: pausing, paraphrasing and posing questions (with a rising inflection that communicates curiosity and openness, not control or credibility). The beauty of this approach is that it helps the individual “self-monitor, self-analyze, and self-evaluate“.
The session certainly reinforced three lessons that clinicians should know; after all, a foundational goal of clinical legal education is fostering reflection, and most of us teach interviewing and counseling, at least to some extent.
- First, the power of listening. In a world of fast talking, sometimes monologue-happy, often living-in-our-heads law professors, so easy for this lesson to “go missing” if we ruminate worriedly, trying to cope with the new normal in faculty and committee meetings and informal conversations.
- Second, the value of paraphrasing for understanding to ensure accurate communication.
- And finally, the importance of founding our questions on authentic curiosity — listening in order to understand, not to counter an argument.
In a constantly changing world, where so many verities are in play, it’s too easy for us to get stuck in fear and suspicion. Though the stated rationale for the mini-plenary was to help us counsel students, for me it spoke at least as powerfully to how we can most effectively interact with our colleagues. And, perhaps, “counsel” ourselves.
In the next, and final post of this series, I’ll discuss a Thursday concurrent that linked “inner development” with community building and social justice.
Filed under: Best Practices, Best Practices & Curriculum, Best Practices & Setting Goals, Best Practices for Institutional Effectiveness, Uncategorized | Tagged: best practices for legal education, Carolyn McAnders, Cognitive coaching, cultural competence, Deborah Maranville, experiential education, listening | 1 Comment »