During my Thanksgiving break, I had the opportunity to reflect on some similarities in situation of my students and my almost 80 year old father. Fifty-nine years ago, on Thanksgiving Day, he emigrated to NYC and arrived earlier than expected and at the wrong airport. A stranger, a military man, extended kindness, direction and coins for a telephone call so that my father could properly connect with his immigrant family in the Bronx. I only heard the details of this lonely and unsettling arrival recently. Usually, my Dad emphasizes how he thought all the fuss of parades and bounteous food were in his honor or that “Americans always ate like kings.”
Like my father, my wonderful students persevere, dream and work hard despite the consistent dire predictions from “johnny-come-latelies” and panic-inducing pundits that legal education and the profession will never recover and go back to “the good old days.” My Dad left poverty-ridden Ireland because there were no jobs or prospects. He had little in his pocket but similar hope , a loving immigrant family in the Bronx, love of new ideas, and appreciation of humanity, both in its goodness and frailty. My Dad’s world, America and the globe itself has changed drastically since 1953, just like legal education, the legal profession and the global economy have changed drastically of late. So what lessons could I derive from one Irish immigrant’s experience of change in America? My Dad is suprisingly open to cultural change, to difference , and to new ideas, despite his age and orthodox upbringing. Change brings him not only the understandable reactions of uncertainty and some trepidation, but excitement. He knows that how one responds to change is ultimately determinative of happiness. That perspective I can certainly share with my students, and perhaps work with them more on acquistion of skills related to adaptability.
In addition, my thanksgiving musings led me to meditate a bit on how to join my Dad’s wisdom with lessons for those of us facing what seems like negative change in legal education in the United States. Here’s some good things to be grateful about potential changes in legal education:
1. It forces us to define the “value added” that students obtain from a legal education.
2. It forces us to be more organized and thoughful about what we hope to do for students in our classes, our curriculum and our institutions.
3. It demands that students play a more mature and active role in determining what they hope to gain from law school and how much they are willing to pay for it.
4. It gives faculty the opportunity to learn new methods of instruction, new theories about learning, cognition, and the brain as well as new ideas about what a modern legal education could encompass. (think about legal ed reforms current rise in popularty including by elite institutions – the johnny come latelies.)
5. It can help redeem the profession — by shaking out the old elitist, untested assumptions and force the profession to become more connected to its justice and civic roots. (Think the rise of pro bono and preparation of folks who serve people instead of simply sorting students for corporate or corporate law hiring and leaving all other students to learn at the expense of the interests of their early career clients …..)
6. It has married the interests of those who wish for a more inclusive profession with those who ask for more accurate and scientific gatekeeping to the profession through the LSAT and the Bar. (think the Schultz-Zedeck study and its pervasive appeal).
7. It has forced legal educators to focus on preparing students for the new economy instead of the old economy. (think Bill Henderson’s work at Indiana!)
While I am hopeful and see opportunity in the crisis, I am not Pollyanna. Thus, I must mention the newest press releases from the ABA Accreditation work. The latest news from the ABA Standards Review Committee (SRC) process is that rather than having the SRC submitt a package of revisions that interlock and make sense as a whole to the Council of the Section, it seems now that individual issues and sections will go up in an arbitrary piecemeal fashion. Those of us following the proposed revisions will have to be vigilant as each new proposed revised section gets sent up. At first blush, it seems that this will make it even harder for law schools in a difficult economic climate to plan and budget to meet the unconnected, evolving, and ever changing standards. Do you agree? Am I missing the good news here?
So how do I react with wisdom to this latest news? I remain grateful for my inspiring Dad and students who fill my life with richness, purpose and reward. I am going to try hard, as my Dad would want, to be hopeful and understanding of what the heck is happening with the ABA Standards work, but that might take a “Holiday Miracle” worthy of the Lifetime Channel!
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