Looking Beyond the Trends: Who’s Our Curriculum Really For?

Just catching up on my summer reading and I came across a short piece titled, “My Best Marketing Advice for Lawyers,” by John H. Fisher, Esq.  In the article, Attorney Fisher responds to an inquiry for his best marketing advice by saying: “Identify your ‘Ideal Client’ and nurture and cultivate the relationship with your Ideal Client through a series of educational and informative newsletters, speaking events, books, and social events.” 1  This three-step plan: paint a picture of your ideal client, attract your ideal client, and nurture the relationship with your ideal client was clear, linear, and supported with some truly clever and constructive examples of providing best tips and advice – for your referral partners. The article concludes that this plan has the power to change law practices, create goodwill, and perhaps make the actor a “mini-celebrity among peers.”  Apropos of the previous blog, such advice seems consistent.  And, to be fair to Mr. Fisher given what follows, he was posed the question, and we are still in the post “failing” law school phase.

 

Two of several things that give me pause here, are in who is assumed to be the “ideal” client and how we are affecting our students’ priorities when we offer and even encourage them to take “law” school courses in economic trends in the legal profession and personal finance.  The apparent underlying assumption of both articles is that the “ideal” client is someone who will financially advantage the lawyer, and/or that the wealth of our profession and ourselves is worthy of credit in a school devoted to the study of law. Understanding that making a living is important, I’d note that there are no major stories about whether lawyers make a “living wage” either here2 or in other nations, or of lawyers who cobble together several jobs over the long-term to support themselves or a family.  But I did, however, recently listen at a ceremony where the head of a non-law institute spoke eloquently about the goal of that educational institution as doing justice and having their faculty involved in field-work toward helping others establish workable justice systems.  Non-lawyers.

 

Whenever students struggle with understanding a statute or regulation and where I sense a disconnect, I encourage asking who benefits from a policy or something being advocated.  Then, recognizing how easy it is to go along with an idea that is being advocated when it is self-benefitting, I encourage students to ask who is left out and, if appropriate, why we continue to allow others’ priorities to be that determinative.

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4 Responses

  1. So many law professors today forget why they are teaching. Law school exists to help students become effective lawyers. Everything a law school does should be directed at furthering that purpose.

    I would add to your list those law professors who teach the courses they want to teach, instead of the courses that will most help the students become effective lawyers. Law in Medieval Iceland may be fun to teach, but it does not prepare lawyers to work in the 21st century.

    • I thought about the comment here for quite a while before writing this short response because I’m not always sure what makes someone an effective lawyer – certainly not when law students come to us with much more varied backgrounds than they did ten or twenty years ago. I think what helps students become effective lawyers also begs the underlying question of who’s the “client” we are preparing students to serve – the social justice system? society? the economy? a particular class of entities that may hire the lawyer? individuals that may hire the lawyer? the bench? the bar? students themselves? a combination?

      I think updating institutional conversations on defining “client” seems worth doing because, it seems to me, it’s possible to be drawn toward a particular definition by so many different interests. The responses may vary, but would at least be deliberate.

  2. I think we can do both. Millennials are said to want jobs that make money, are fun and have a good social purpose. We can aim at teaching law students ways to practice that address the access to justice gap, are fun and collaborative, and also provide a good living. This is exactly what we’re trying to do at my law school in our Clinics Without Walls. This might take some continued innovation in the delivery of legal services and in legal education. Visioning one’s ideal practice is a great exercise. But, in today’s legal landscape, without “meaning” (meaning social utility and improvement of existing, failing systems) in our work, I suspect that neither we nor our law students will be long satisfied.

    From Susan D., via iPhone through Sprint. 904-534-3411••••

    • Educating toward the ability to provide legal assistance to people without significant means, to improve existing or failing systems, or aide in creating systems, would certainly help focus a school’s mission. It’s also possible that a professional’s ideal practice could be providing such services.

      As you point out, there is a shift in importance for people entering the job market on having more fun and on being able to be more collaborative. At least one entrepreneur has made headlines by moving to a five-hour work week and adding profit-sharing to see his business grow substantially. Of course, that business makes paddle boards to use in leisure time – not exactly street clinics or clinics without walls. The convergence of all of these interests – social justice, making a living, enjoying life, pose very real balance/stability challenges for legal educators.

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