Birth, Maturity, Creative Destruction & Renewal At AALS Clinical Conference

As someone who collaborated on a concurrent session titled “Facing Our Fears in Changing Times” at the AALS Conference on Clinical Legal Education, it’s probably not surprising that I was especially drawn to sessions that brought in models or speakers from other disciplines to provide insight on how to operate effectively in the midst of the current period of change in legal education.

In addition to my last post on Michele Weise’s Closing Plenary, in this and my next two posts, I’ll discuss three other provocative sessions that addressed different aspects of this theme.

On Tuesday morning my University of Washington colleagues Jennifer Fan and Lisa Kelly, worked with Rutgers-Newark’s Randi Mandelbaum and Syracuse’s Mary Helen McNeal to introduce the “liberating structures eco-systems model” of leadership.  That model views organizational change as an  infinity loop in which organizations move through four cycles that call for different styles of leadership:

Stage                                                   Leadership Style

Birth                                                     Entrepreneur

Maturity                                                Manager

Creative Destruction                           Heretic

Renewal                                               Networker

The model suggests that embedded in the cycle are two “traps“:

1. Between the Maturity and Creative Destruction stages lies the Rigidity Trap of “not letting go” of what the organization has birthed and brought to maturity.  Staying stuck in the past and wedded to the old ways of doing things.

2. Between Creative Destruction and Renewal lies the Poverty Trap of “not investing enough to accomplish renewal”.

Sound familiar? The session included an exercise where attendees decided which stage  they perceived their individual clinic, program, institution, or the clinical legal education movement to be in.  Participants  then added on the infinity loop diagram post-its with their results.  Although responses were spread around the loop, most clustered  among Maturity — Creative Destruction — and Renewal.  Most responses addressed clinical programs and law schools.

I find this framework a helpful reminder that our current struggles are “normal” and that they won’t last forever.  And inspiration to let go of fears and rigidity.

I’m grateful to my former colleague Tim Jaasko-Fisher for his work with liberating structures in the Court Improvement Academy of UW Law’s Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic.

Disruptive Innovation & the AALS Clinical Conference

One of the highlights of last week’s AALS Conference for Clinical Law Teachers was the closing talk by Michele Weise, Senior Fellow, Education at the Clay Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. (A big shout out to Michele Pistone for her role in making that talk happen!) I was superficially familiar with the  disruptive innovation thesis, but Weise’s half-hour talk brought to life its relevance to the current moment in legal education in a way that previous exposure had not. Disruptive innovations that shake up a market or industry often follow a predictable pattern, it is argued. The established players in the market target a higher end client base and compete on quality, improving the product and selling it at a high margin.  This leaves a significant, low-end segment of the market unserved. New entrants provide an inferior product to these unserved consumers, and gradually improve the product and expand their market.  Poof go the established players. Think personal computers, print media, digital cameras, mobile phones . . . . Traditional higher education has long failed to reach a significant segment of potential consumers and the federal government’s shift from financial aid grants to student loans has greatly exacerbated that problem. Arguably, the stage is set for disruptive innovation and on-line technology may be the means to that disruption. The next step of Weise’s analysis was what really captured my attention. She noted that higher education currently serves many functions – transmission of content and certification of knowledge or skills; providing a safe space for young adults to mature socially; networking opportunities, mentoring and tutoring; research & dissemination of scholarship. These functions can be – and are being – disaggregated and provided more cheaply on line. Even the Harvards of the world are potentially at risk, according to Weise. Law schools have traditionally provided a generalist education.  As legal practice becomes more specialized, that educational model arguably serves to mask more specialized functions that could be disaggregated.  This is already being tried in my home state of Washington with our new Limited Licensed Legal Technician (aka/ Triple LT) program.  But lawyers also wouldn’t have to be trained as generalists.  As course offerings expand, the potential for moving away from the traditional generalist education does also.  Already,  this shows up in the transcripts of some of my students who are not necessarily taking the doctrinal courses that were considered foundational in my day.  Does this matter? Before hearing Weise’s talk, during the Law Clinic Directors Workshop, I raised the question “how much doctrine do we need to teach?” Good lawyers, I observed,  have extensive doctrinal knowledge.  (Of course, law schools historically haven’t taught doctrine in connection with the experiential anchor points that many of us need in order to retrieve that knowledge for practice.)  Elliott Milstein later challenged the importance of doctrinal knowledge,  observing that his clinic students handle their cases well regardless of whether they have taken relevant doctrinal courses.  Often true.  And yet . . .  The counter-example that I didn’t have a chance to share:  one of my  students  recognized that we could challenge a new unemployment compensation statute on the ground that the subject was not properly included in the title of the legislation.  A classic case of issue spotting that came about solely because he was taking a Washington State Constitutional Law course.  (I didn’t recognize the issue.) A reminder that the ability to issue spot is valuable.  But  . . . state constitutional law isn’t a classic “foundational” “bar course”. This issue spotting was strictly serendipity – a traditional doctrinally-focused course load would not have accomplished this result. I’m still struggling with the generalist/specialist question.  But it leaves me thinking about the potential for niche curricular innovation aimed at students – often older ones who understand their talents, passions and life goals – who come to law school with a commitment to a practice area like criminal law, immigration law, or business law.

  • Are there enough of those students to justify a legal education targeted at those niches?
  • If so, can we focus their education in a way that really prepares them for their specialty?
  • And, can we at the same time identify a “sweet spot” of “just enough” generalist knowledge to accompany that specialization?  One that provides a foundation for passing the bar exam and the analytical and research skills to master new areas of the law, but does not take up the bulk of a three year curriculum?

I don’t know the answer to these questions.  But they strike me as worth investigating.

Teaching Optimism

Chris Rock’s tweet “Are black men an endangered species? No, endangered species are protected by law,” captures at once the failure to apply our laws and when applying them to do so effectively. Scan to the recently released Senate Select Committee’s Study of the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Program, yet another example of how we struggle as a culture with the rule of law.

How do law schools inspire students to work within a system that yields such results?

The AALS Deans Steering Committee had this to say: “Law school empowers students to become agents of change because it teaches students about the legal system of the United States, a system that has the seeds of change built into its structure.” The statement goes on to say that “The rule of law is the foundation of our society, our political system, and our economic system” and “The primary role of law professors is to teach the next generation of lawyers to think critically about problems, to understand the structure and power of law in our society, and to be thoughtful and engaged with respect to solutions.”[1]

Indeed, critical thinking about legal and other strategies that touch on social wrongs has been discussed in law school classrooms and clinic supervision for decades. However, our legacy is the workarounds and neutralizing of civil rights, workers rights, environmental, and other laws intended to help us solve social ills; the seeds of change have not borne the results expected. Students who are attracted to law school because they see law as a tool for solving problems, soon sense a system that is mightily frayed. As these students navigate the texts and training offered, they struggle with how within our venerated legal system to achieve change that will connect the law to the values they consider essential for a viable society.

Vermont Law School’s curriculum committee just approved a new course called Legal Activism: Lawyering for Social Change designed to expose students to theoretical and practical approaches to legal activism. The course will use Alan K. Chen and Scott Cummings, Public Interest Lawyering: A Contemporary Perspective (Aspen Elective 2012) as its text, taking advantage of the book’s focus on activist lawyers and legal strategies in our history. The impetus for the course was largely the disconnect between the careful web of procedure, precedent and statutes that perpetuate unsustainable results and the desire so many of our students have expressed to find paths that reflect the values they hold.

As law schools consider how to prepare students for the “new normal” (a painful phrase), we must recognize that among them are those who question the very premises of normalcy. Our challenge is to work with these students to foster a sense that they can achieve meaningful results, and that it is not too late to try. Their pursuit of change may test the structure of law in our society and its relevance to the increasingly urgent problems we face. While they may not discover more sustainable results than those achieved by activist lawyers in the past, we will do well to help them envision the possibilities.

[1] See “Statement on the Value of Legal Education,” http://www.aals.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/Statement-on-the-Value-of-a-Legal-Education.pdf

Law School Applicants: What Are The Jobs Students Hire Law School To Do?

Following on some recent discussions about disruption and legal education, I’d like to solicit help from the community in determining what are the “jobs to be done” in legal education?

HBS Professor Clay Christensen tells us that a central place to begin an analysis of disruptive innovation is with the question: What jobs do our customers want us to do for them? In other words, what needs arise in our customers lives that they look to us to meet/satisfy?  Here is a relevant article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/stephenwunker/2012/02/07/six-steps-to-put-christensens-jobs-to-be-done-theory-into-practice/

I think that once the legal academy gets a good handle on this question, it may help us figure out how to reform legal education in light of the recent dramatic changes in market conditions.

I am still forming my ideas on this, so am looking to start a discussion and for feedback.  The more I think about it, we actually may have to address two questions, one focused on law school applicants and the second on law school students.  Or maybe the law school student questions are a sub-category of the overarching law school applicant questions.  That still needs to be fleshed out.

Here is my draft list of jobs that applicants to law school need to be done (in no special order and some may not apply to every student):

  • I need something respectable to do after college
  • I need to feel good about myself (to feel smart, special, elite)
  • I need a place where I can enjoy spending time with my friends/people who share the same ideas/talents/perspectives as I do
  • I need to become qualified to sit for a bar exam/ to become an entry level lawyer
  • I need to feel part of a larger community/network
  • I need to figure out how to use my gifts/talents for a fulfilling career (I am not a math, science type, so medical school, computer science, engineering, are not for me)
  • I need to find a career that will enable the lifestyle I anticipate for myself and my family

Each of the above needs has sub-needs.  For example: “I need to become qualified for the bar/ to become an entry level lawyer” has lots of sub-needs, such as:

  • I need to learn how to think like a lawyer
  • I need to learn fundamental legal concepts and theories
  • I need to learn the laws and legal theories that are relevant to my field of interest
  • I need to begin for form a professional identity
  • I need to learn the practical skills and professional values of lawyering
  • I need to learn how to conduct legal research
  • I need to learn how to write like a lawyer . . .
  • I need to find a job in my field
  • I need to begin to meet lawyers in the community in which I will work

I realize that many students may not independently identify these are needs.  What does that mean for the “jobs to be done” analysis?  Is education different in the sense that professional students may not always know their needs?  I’d also like guidance on how that is handled in the analysis.

Thanks in advance for any guidance, suggestions, comments, corrections, etc.  I hope that this sparks a fruitful discussion and look forward to hearing your feedback.

Law Practice at the Cusp of Disruption

Colleagues, please read this article by Clay Christensen and his colleagues.  As law professors, we need to understand how the practice of law is changing.  Only if we understand it can we best prepare our students for the world they are entering and will be practicing in going forward.  It talks about the move from BigLaw to NewLaw, and sees more evolution along the lines of Axion, AdvanceLaw, Lawyers on Demand, all within the scope of BigLaw.  

Then let me know what you think in the comments section below. 

Why Formative Assessment is Essential in Legal Education

As the ABA Council meets to consider and debate the proposed revisions to the Accreditation Standards found in section 3, The Program of Legal Education, I want to highlight a Forbes article by Michael Horn of the Clayton Christensen Institute.  Horn has been studying disruption in education for the last several years.  

If we take as a given that our goal in educating potential lawyers is for every single one of our graduates to have mastered the material before graduation, then a system that incorporates formative assessment and feedback is essential.  That’s because our current system of feedback and assessment does not ensure that students will be motivated to achieve mastery.  Why?  According to Horn, “the keys events embedded within curricula that could help students feel successful – examinations – occur [at the end of the semester].  Students generally don’t receive feedback on how they did for another couple weeks while the professor grades them.  And when the grades are handed out, the privilege of feeling successful is reserved only for the best students.  By design the rest experience failure.”  

But, according to the “Jobs To Be Done” theory that Clayton Christensen and Horn posit, law students hire law schools in part to make them feel successful and make meaningful progress.  How can our system of assessment be so out of line with what students hire us to do?

The article is definitely worth reading and explains why I envision blending online learning with active, problem-based, face-to-face instruction as a means to build motivation and thrive for mastery in learning for all our students.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 825 other followers

%d bloggers like this: