3 Problems with Legal Education

UC Hastings Dean Frank Wu has an interesting article in Above the Law about Law Schools.  He mentions three problems with legal education: (1) a glut of lawyers in today’s market; (2) high cost; (3) insufficient training in practical skills.

Do you agree?  Would you add anything to the list?

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. 

Flipping Law School Classes

I flipped my class yesterday.  And I think it worked!

The class was on persuasive lawyering.  Over the summer I made a video about persuasive lawyering.  It talks about persuasion in relation to classic rhetoric, and the elements of logos, pathos and ethos.  The video is available on LegalED.

Here is what I did during the 55-minute class segment that I allocate in my syllabus for introducing the topic:

I assigned the video for students to watch as homework.  It is less than 5 minutes long.  Then, when we got to class, instead of starting the discussion of persuasion with a short lecture on the topic, I started with an exercise.  The students were asked to work with a partner to persuade my co-teacher (I am very fortunate to be co-teaching with Harriet Power from our university’s theater department this semester) and I that we should serve wine and cheese during each class.  The student teams had two minutes to come up with their arguments.  Then, each student team had one minute to stand up and persuade us, with each partner contributing equally to the argument.  Most argued about the health benefits of wine, others about how drinking wine would make the students more relaxed and open, which would facilitate better in class discussions, and others pointed out how the professors could benefit from the wine as well, at the end of a long, busy day.  The theme of culture was raised as well; some arguments tied the wine and cheese to our abilities to learn about different cultures through their food and drink.

My co-teacher and I then facilitated a discussion of the arguments in relation to the theory of persuasion.  We used the students’ arguments as jumping off points – we broke them apart to identify what worked and why, relating everything back to the theory the students had learned from the video and the tactics of persuasion – logos, pathos and ethos.  For example, the argument drew on logos when it referred to the research on the health benefits of drinking red wine.  The part of the argument that was more personal about us as professors and how we could also enjoy the wine, was about pathos, appealing to the audience’s emotions.

I have taught a class on persuasive lawyering about ten times before and this one seemed different; it was better.  Instead of my talking at the students about the foundations of persuasive argument, by flipping the classroom my students could learn the foundational information before coming to class.  That opened up the class for an activity in which the students could actually try it out.

Another added benefit was that we could provide feedback on the students’ presentation skills as well.  We told them whether their tone was appropriate and authoritative.  By getting the students out of their chairs, we could provide feedback to the students on their posture and stance and how body language can enhance or detracted from the persuasiveness of an argument.

I hope to make shorter videos on each of the three elements – ethos, pathos and logos – in which I flesh each out in more detail in the coming weeks.

If you have any questions, ask them in the comments section below.  I’d be happy to share more about the experience.  I also welcome comments on the video.

ABA Standards Review Committee votes for 6 credits of experiential learning

Karen Sloan at the National Law Journal reports that the ABA Standards Review Committee made some decisions during its recent meeting.  In addition to eliminating the faculty-student ratio, here are some other highlights from her article:

• The committee voted to require law students to complete at least six credit hours of experiential coursework—clinics, externships or simulation courses. That would be up from the existing one credit-hour requirement, but less than the 15 hours suggested by the Clinical Legal Education Association or the 15 hours being pursued by the State Bar of California.

• It adopted a new student-learning outcomes requirement. Law schools would have to establish a list of competencies that students must achieve and assess whether they are meeting those goals. This measure is intended to make schools look beyond bar-pass rates to determine whether they are meeting student needs. However, the recommended standard leaves law schools plenty of leeway in determining what the learning outcomes should be and how to assess them.

• The committee voted to increase the number of credits law students may receive from distance learning classes from 12 to 15 and eliminated the rule that students may take no more than four distance-learning credits per semester. Students could take a full semester of courses away from their home campus.

Read more: here.

NYT – The Unseen Costs of Cutting Law School Faculty

Take a look at this NYT’s article by University of San Diego Professor, Vic Fleischer, noting that “The law school at Seton Hall University has put its untenured faculty on legal notice that their contracts may not be renewed for the 2014-15 academic year.”  While disagreeing with the Seton Hall decision, Fleischer offers some suggestions of his own on how law schools could cut costs, “Post-tenure review (by faculty, not administrators) can ensure that faculty members remain productive. Libraries can be moved online. Clinics can be closed, and adjunct faculty can be better utilized to team-teach practical courses alongside research faculty. The size of the administrative staff can be pared down, especially those who manage programs that might be considered luxuries.”  

At a time when law schools are being criticized for paying insufficient attention to training in practical lawyering skills and professional values (not to mention, the advent of scalable online teaching technologies), I do not see how closing clinics is the answer.  I would prefer for the discussion to recognize that if we eliminate clinics altogether, then what remains to be taught in law schools could easily move online.  In an article I will be sending out next week, I go into this in a lot more depth. 

CALI conference June 13-15 in Chicago

If you’ll be in the Chicago area this week, consider attending the CALI conference.  Info is available here.   This year’s conference is about Driving Innovation and will feature talks by Bill Henderson, Barbara Glesner-Fines, Conrad Johnson and many other innovators in legal education.  The conference will also include a number of session on one of my favorite law school innovations, flipped learning.  Need a primer on flipped learning, watch my video, available on the LegalED site and here.

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