The new issue of the University Toledo Law Review is out, featuring its annual “virtual symposium” on legal education by law school deans. These annual issues should be read not just be deans and people who are thinking about pursuing a law school deanship, but they should be read by college and university presidents and provosts, members of law school boards of trustees and advisory boards, senior administrative staff, and most important, by law school faculty. The articles in each volume, taken together, offer terrific insights into current challenges facing legal education, interesting historical background on various aspects of legal education, and innovative ideas to shape the future of law schools and legal education. The winter 2015 volume is no exception.
While I will not address all twelve of the articles/essays in this brief review, I do want to highlight several important themes in four pieces. Beginning with the opening contribution by two-time former dean Peter C. Alexander (Indiana Tech and Southern Illinois), more than mere references to “best practices” principles abound. One of Alexander’s assertions is that law schools, in “the new normal” must do more to create “practice ready” graduates as part of the ongoing curricular reform taking place. He also suggests, “Faculty members have to design new methods of instruction and create new pathways for students to learn….Deans must make funds available for faculty members to learn how people learn and how to teach the current generation of students.” (p. 263) This is an astute observation and one not lost on many in the academy. Most of us on the law faculty did not receive any formal education or degree in pedagogy. While those who work with students from pre-K through 12th grade must be certified as teachers after formal baccalaureate and post-baccalaureate training, there are no such requirements in higher education. Few, if any, dispute that in law school the learning styles of our students has changed over time, and this challenges law faculty to more attune to the need to change our teaching methodologies.
Another piece written by Professor George Critchlow, former interim dean and former director of the clinical programs at Gonzaga University School of Law, focuses on ensuring that legal education in a broad sense is accessible to those who wish to serve the public good – including non-lawyers (a good and controversial read). In his discussion on affordability, Critchlow reviews a number of ideas that have been circulating for years including, but not limited to: law schools partnering with legal services organizations and firms (resembling aspects of the medical school model); a discretionary third year program that consists entirely of a practice-oriented experience; participation by law schools with apprenticeship programs that allow or encourage students to engage in actual work outside of the law school in addition to classes (this goes well beyond the current law school supervised externship and clinic experiences); and cost savings to clinical programs by entering into “hybrid” arrangements with community based legal service providers.
A theme in Critchlow’s article is picked up in greater detail in an article by IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law dean Harold J. Krent and director of clinical legal education Gary S. Laser. Krent and Laser focus on meeting the experiential challenge through the operation of a fee-generating law clinic. By highlighting the example of the IIT Chicago-Kent model which in essence is organized as an in-house law office, the authors point out that students are exposed not just to the traditional live client experience of a clinic, but they develop an appreciation for the economics of law practice. This is important given the increasing attention that many law schools are giving to the business aspects of running law offices, whether it be through the incubator movement, the addition of courses on law office management, and the introduction of business skills to the curriculum.
The symposium ends with an essay by UC Hastings College of Law Dean Frank Wu which I highly recommend everyone read. Dean Wu offers his prescription for reforming law schools, much of which I will not address here due to space and my focus on best practice. Wu states, “A lawyer should be like a doctor. There is no medical school graduate who altogether lacks clinical experience. Every licensed physician has seen a live patient presenting actual symptoms before charging anyone for a diagnosis. Yet some law school graduates manage to do quite well by book learning alone. They need not interview, counsel, or draft, to earn honors, if their exams and seminar papers are good enough.” (p. 420) He discusses the increasing importance of the need for the academy and the profession to understand and appreciate the impact that technology is having and will have on the future of the practice of law and lawmaking. Wu addresses the ongoing and long-time debate over the profile of law professors as practitioners or intellectuals. (p. 440) In addressing the costs of change, Dean Wu asserts that the most expensive and most worthwhile change we have “recently” made in legal education is clinical legal education.
Every year I find fascinating the articles and essays published by the Toledo Law Review in their special “deans” issue. I am surprised that many people do not know that this annual symposium exists. It is a good read that should not be missed.