New Article: “When Interests Converge: An Access-to-Justice Mission for Law Schools”

These are challenging times in law schools.  Law school enrollments remain low and graduate unemployment remains high.  Many claim there are too many lawyers to go around and law schools are just making matters worse by continuing to educate prospective lawyers.  But the problem is not really that there are too many lawyers.  Indeed, roughly 80% of low-income and half of middle-income Americans face their legal problems without a lawyer.  Too many face their legal issues without the benefit of legal representation at a time when too many law school graduates are unemployed or underemployed.  In order to overcome this paradox, I argue in a forthcoming piece in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy,  that law schools should embrace an access-to-justice mission, one that would help focus law school teaching, scholarship, and service on the justice gap and help align the interests of those who want to ensure everyone has access to a lawyer who needs one with those who want law schools to continue the important work of educating the next generation of lawyers.  Below is the abstract to “When Interests Converge: An Access-to-Justice Mission for Law Schools.”  A draft can be downloaded here.  Comments welcome.

In recent years, law schools have faced a crisis brought on by the external forces of technology, automation, and legal process outsourcing that has translated into poor job prospects for their graduates, and, in turn, a diminution in the number of students interested in attending law schools.  Such external phenomena are joined by internal critiques of law schools: that they have failed to educate their students adequately for the practice of law and have adopted dubious strategies without a defining mission, all at a time when the market for legal services seems to be changing, perhaps dramatically. Paradoxically, while graduates face diminished job prospects, there is still a vast justice gap: the inability of millions of Americans to obtain legal assistance when facing a legal problem.  There is thus an interest convergence between those who might want access to a lawyer and the law schools that strive to educate the next generation of lawyers and the ones after that.  This Article uses this interest convergence—and the late Derrick Bell’s “Interest Convergence Theory” as a lens through which to view it—as an opportunity for law schools to retool their missions to confront the access-to-justice crisis facing many Americans.  It argues that law schools should embrace an access-to-justice component to their missions to help increase demand for legal services, re-establish the value of legal assistance to the community, restore the importance of the legal profession in preserving and extending societally important rights and interests, and improve the demand for legal education.


Finding Meaning

As national and international events continue to develop in uncertain and unsettling ways, educating the next generation of lawyers continues to be obviously and critically important. What should our laws be, how are they interpreted and enforced, how are our leaders elected, and what can be done to move toward justice? Legal education prepares leaders to contribute (wisely, we hope) to all aspects of civic governance – and yet – the institutions that provide legal education are still finding their way.

Word got out that most graduates do not become rich law firm partners within 7 years, or ever, and this is among the reasons why far fewer people want to attend law school. The boom and eventual bloat in legal education shouldn’t have been about the money, but, for many, it was. Now some large firm salaries have recently increased, in perhaps a hopeful sign of a rebound. But Professor Frank H. Wu’s comments resonate:

I have nothing against a young person declaring that they wish to make money — of course they do. My point is if that is the primary consideration in your career choice, there are better methods for doing so. Joining a profession in which you represent someone else entails making a sacrifice in the name of principle.

Society needs members of the legal profession who embrace the significance of their noble, helping role, apart from whether it brings wealth (and even though in many cases it won’t). Likewise, legal education needs students who seek potential meaning in their work, and also faculty, staff, and administrators who recognize that educating new lawyers might be more of a helping profession than a ramp toward remuneration. The disruption of the past several years has taught us that lesson, but without this underlying nugget of optimism:  As described by Will Storr in his recent New Yorker article, maybe Aristotle’s prescription for the good life was on target. Preliminary findings show that being engaged in meaningful work improves health and lifespan. Guiding our institutions and untangling the current state of affairs provide serious opportunities for lawyers to take on and benefit from this vital, meaningful work.

. . . because there is no social justice

Yesterday, I reviewed a student reflection that broke my heart a little bit. The student responded to my prompt, which asked her to comment on her summer work experience in the context of advancing social justice, by describing an intractable problem with her indigent client. She described hours upon days of work attempting to resolve an unjustified power shutoff for the client, and she ended her piece by explaining that she would continue to work with this case, this issue, and this client “because there is no social justice.”

My response to the student in part, was as follows:

As I sit here preparing to write a piece about the disintegration of our criminal “justice” system, prompted by yet another set of police homicides of men of color this week, your comment that “there is no social justice” certainly resonates with me. The need for us as lawyers, mentors and teachers to reflect with our students about that harsh reality, and to get up and do our jobs as public interest lawyers again the next day, is sometimes overwhelming. I share your frustration, which is not even the right term. I often feel in working with domestic violence victims in my clinic as if we are just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The fact that we do not stop, though, is what keeps the ship of justice afloat. Battered, barely making it, but afloat. I fear it is at greater risk now than ever in this nation, though, and advocates like you will be critical to affect change from inside. Please keep doing what you are doing.

I like the sound of that metaphor about a ship of justice. But I’m frankly not sure if it is even apt.  What ship? What justice? As my colleague Leigh Goodmark noted yesterday, “As soon as I saw the news about Dallas this morning, I thought, I can’t. I just can’t face another day of violence and death and destruction.

That’s privilege. I don’t have to face the reality that when my son leaves the house, he might not come back. That my husband–or I– could be pulled over for a broken taillight and shot as we reached for identification. I don’t have to go into the streets to protest and die trying to protect my children from sniper’s bullets. Because I don’t live in black or brown skin, with a threat hanging over me every minute of every day.

That’s why we have to keep looking. Keep talking. Keep posting. Keep letting our friends of color know that we hear them, we see them, we value their lives, and we love them. Keep demanding better from our police, our government, ourselves. Our friends don’t ever get to say, I can’t. We shouldn’t either.”

Our privilege as law professors goes beyond skin color, but make no mistake, it is seeped in elitism.  Today I am using that privilege on this blog to say these words. That is all. It is not enough. It will never be enough. But I won’t stop. I don’t know if there is social justice. But I know there is a movement towards it, and I want to be a part of it.



by Robert Kuehn,  Washington University School of Law

The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” When it comes to expanding clinical legal education, the knee-jerk opinion is that it is too expensive for legal education to follow the lead of other professional schools and ensure that every student graduates with a clinical experience through a law clinic or externship. Even the richest law schools couldn’t resist playing the cost card to scare the ABA out of requiring additional professional skills training: “Requiring all law schools to provide 15 experiential credit hours to each student will impose large costs on law schools, costs that would have to be passed on to students. . . . Even a law school with significant financial resources could not afford such an undertaking.” 1

Yet, the facts show otherwise — every school, from the well-heeled to the impecunious, can provide a clinical experience to each student without increasing tuition. Indeed, an array of schools already require 15 credits of experiential coursework (simulations, law clinics & externships) and a clinical experience (a law clinic or externship) for all their J.D. students without noticeable impacts on tuition. At the City University of New York, students must take a twelve- to sixteen-credit law clinic or externship prior to graduation, and at only $15,000 in resident tuition ($24,000 non-resident). Students at the University of the District of Columbia similarly must enroll in a seven-credit law clinic in their second year and a second seven-credit clinic in their third year, paying $11,500 in resident tuition ($22,500 non-resident). Starting with the 2013 entering class, Washington and Lee University requires twenty academic credits in simulated or real-practice experiences that include at least one law clinic or externship. The professor overseeing the program explained that a review of the first few years of the new curriculum showed it is “slightly less expensive than our former, traditional third-year curriculum. And . . . than our current first and second years.”2  Most recently, Pepperdine announced that beginning with next year’s class, students must graduate with at least 15 credits of experiential course work, yet the school increased tuition for 2015 by less than its average increase for the prior three years.

These examples are consistent with studies showing that every school can afford to require a clinical experience for every J.D. student. Continue reading

Competencies-Based Legal Education

[This was originally posted by the Clayton Christensen Institute on Disruptive Innovation]

 Last week, I discussed why law schools need to respond to the changing marketplace for legal services and legal education.  In thinking about how best to prepare for that changing world, law schools need to consider how competency-based educational models can be employed to advance educational objectives for students seeking to enter the market for legal services.  As Michael Horn and I explain in our new whitepaper, Disrupting Law School, regulatory protections that have sheltered law schools from competition will continue to subside.  In this new environment, law schools need to reimagine themselves as educators for students interested in learning about the legal services sector, not simply those seeking a JD.

One way to do this is to think about legal education from a blank slate.  Rather that try to retrofit our current pedagogy to address 21st century needs, instead we need to think about it from its inception — if one were to start a school today to educate those who want a career in the legal services field, what would that school look like?

Upstart competency-based education programs have done just that in other parts of higher education.  They provide at least three new considerations for traditional law school as they begin to think about and prepare for the future.

1. Time is no longer the measure of accomplishment

Online competency-based learning reverses the traditional relationship in education between time and student learning. In the traditional educational model, time is fixed while each student’s learning is variable. With online competency-based learning, the relationship between time and learning is reversed — time becomes the variable and each student’s learning becomes essentially fixed. Students process at their own pace, moving from topic to topic upon mastery of each. Those who need more time to master a concept before moving on to the next take the time they need, while others move ahead to the next set of material and learning objectives.

2. Centrality of competencies, learning outcomes, and assessments

Online competency-based programs shift the teaching pedagogy toward student-centered learning. In an online, competency-based program, faculty and instructional designers start by identifying the competencies students must master to achieve the desired learning outcomes and then work through each to understand how a student would demonstrate mastery of those objectives. Through constant feedback, students know how they are doing and what they need to do next and teachers can determine when students have mastered competencies and are ready to move forward. The assessments in other words are both forward looking—assessments that help determine what a student studies nextand backward looking —assessments that indicate whether a student has mastered the material.

3.  Modularization of course material provides more flexibility and different business models

Online competency-based learning is also changing key elements of the traditional higher education business model. Online technologies make it possible to modularize the learning process—that is, to break usual semester-long courses into shorter learning units or modules, which can be studied in sequence or separately. When material is packaged in online modules, it is easier to use for multiple educational purposes and multiple audiences in different combinations.

Stackable modules allow students to create individualized curricula based on their own learning goals and objectives. For students who attend law school knowing the area of law in which they want to practice—a segment of the student body currently underserved due to limited course offerings in any one topic at any one law school—modules open up opportunities to stack credentials from multiple sources. The long tail of the Internet opens up these opportunities; there may be sufficient student demand if online courses can aggregate demand and serve students from around the country or even the world.

Modules also eliminate duplication and optimize teaching resources. This flexible architecture can create an entirely new business model for law-related education. When learning is broken down into competencies—rather than semester-long courses—modules of learning can be packaged into different scalable programs for very different audiences—for example, paralegals, legal technicians, law students, lawyers (CLE), judges, administrative agencies, non-JDs working in law-related fields, foreign students, high school/college moot court teams, undergraduate students, journalists, clients, life-long learners, and so forth.  The possibilities abound.

This exercise can take us in a lot of different directions.  Every direction, though, will ask us to change and move beyond the status quo.  While change is hard, it is also necessary.  I hope our whitepaper provides sufficient impetus to get started.

Disrupting Law School

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In a new whitepaper, Disrupting Law School, Michael B. Horn and I explore various aspects of disruption in the legal services sector with an eye toward how law schools can respond proactively. As we state in the whitepaper, it is clear to us that law schools need to change. But many in the academy believe that we are insulated from disruption because of regulatory protections. In our view, reliance on this regulatory scheme for protection is misguided.

Heavily regulated industries can be disrupted. The taxi industry provides an example. Uber’s novel business model, which intentionally by-passed regulators, has been embraced by customers, investors, and drivers. As we have seen in other industries, once innovations like this accumulate sufficient market support, the regulations will ultimately be loosened to accommodate them.

It is no surprise, then, to see changes in the regulations affecting both lawyers and law schools. Horn and I identify at least three ways that regulations are opening up.

First, advances in technology are altering the traditional legal services value network. For decades lawyers have provided expensive customized solutions for each individual client. Now, the industry is seeing technological innovations bring more standardized, systematized, and, in some instances, commoditized offerings to the market. The rise of LegalZoom is an example of this kind of disruption. LegalZoomhasbeen challenged on regulatory grounds; the claims were that it was engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. LegalZoom won or settled the court challenges. Those successes have motivated it to expand upmarket, as is typical of disruptors.

Second, technological developments are breaking down the traditional rationale—the protection of the public—for granting lawyers a monopoly on the practice of law. State regulators of bar licensure are taking note. States are beginning to experiment with providing non-JDs limited licenses to provide legal services that until now only JDs could provide.

The State of Washington provides the first example.  It recently licensed legal technicians—non-JDs who are specially trained to advise clients in a limited practice area, in this case family law. Akin to a nurse practitioner, a limited license legal technician (LLLT) can perform many of the functions that JDs traditionally performed, including consulting and advising, completing and filing necessary legal documentation, and helping clients understand and navigate a complicated family law court system. Only two years old, this new model is already gaining traction outside of Washington; the bars in California, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Utah, are each considering similar limited licensing options to authorize non-lawyer practitioners to practice in limited capacities in their states.

Finally, on top of the changes coming about through technological innovations and new licensing models, higher education itself is also seeing a variety of potential disruptors emerge, all powered at least in part through online learning. The startups can transform higher education by offering programs that are more flexible, more convenient and, often, more affordable than programs offered in the traditional higher education model. And because they are able to take advantage of a variety of new technologies, business models and teaching pedagogies, these players are positioning themselves to change the status quo in higher education. Here again, law schools may feel protected from the disruption that is coming toward the universities in which we sit because of strict ABA accreditation standards that limit online competition. But here, too, we warn against becoming too complacent when relying on existing regulatory protections.

The ABA recently granted a variance to Mitchell Hamline Law School to offer a blended online, in-person JD program. This acceptance of online learning within the JD, coupled with the ABA’s push for the adoption of learning outcomes and formative assessment, suggest that efforts to innovate using online technologies will find support by accreditors. And students may find online programs attractive as well. Judging from its first class, there is pent-up demand for such an offering; the students who enrolled in Mitchell Hamline’s blended program had higher predictors of success (LSAT and undergraduate GPA) than the class of students enrolled in the live JD program. The program’s former dean, Eric Janus, told me that students in the blended program even expressed gratitude to the school for offering them an opportunity to learn the law. That’s because before this offering became available, the alternative was nothing at all.

Ultimately, we in the legal academy must acknowledge that we are exposed to the same form of competition that has lead to the devastation of entire industries. And then act proactively to create an improved educational environment for the legal services industry.

Centering Justice in Legal Education Reform Discourse

Thanks to Mary Lynch for inviting me to post on this blog about my essay, Deep Critique and Democratic Lawyering in Clinical Practice, which was published in February by California Law Review. Over the course of my work on the essay over a few years, I have come to ask three main questions:

(1) How does the justice-seeking mission of clinical education persist in the face of the rapid expansion of experiential education and the imminent retirement of many of the founders of modern clinical education?

(2) Is there a progressive clinical response to the crisis of legal education in the aftermath of the great recession of 2008?

(3) How can legal educators preserve the public interest, justice-seeking values of the legal profession in the face of contraction, commodification, automation, and outsourcing?

The questions have gotten harder to answer as time has passed, as the post-Carnegie period of experiential expansion fell way to the economic crisis and then to the cyclical and structural breakdown of the market for legal services and the subsequent collapse of the markets for post-graduate employment and law school admissions. Initially, during the short expansionary period, my thought was that justice-oriented clinicians had to engage in the pedagogical excavation of their own work in order to defend it and to claim a share of the resources being allocated by law school administrators. The standard litany of clinical skills is incomplete and tends to favor an attenuated form of clinical practice that prevents clinics from participating in urgent struggles for social and economic justice ongoing in all of our communities. Both non-strategic individual service and private business-oriented clinical models take clinics out of community struggle and place them in service of a conservative political posture that has been maintained by law schools for many years. These approaches also subdue and suppress the justice aspirations of our students.

The necessity for lawyers to think structurally, suggested by Gary Blasi and further supported by Nisha Agarwal and Jocelyn Simonson in their survey of critical theoretical work, suggested to me the idea of “deep critique.” We want our students to think structurally, but how can we begin to think with them outside of what seems currently possible? As we see repeatedly in many areas of struggle, from police

devin allen

Photo credit: Devin Allen

violence to low-wage worker exploitation, liberal legalism doesn’t get us very far. We can teach our students that law is incomplete and inadequate as the sole response to various social crises. But how can we begin to consider responses outside of the liberal legal imaginary? In my experience, organizers have been the ones who have helped me to see both the value of the legal tools that we train our students to use and their use in moving us toward new worlds. I wanted to capture this quality of deep structural thinking that we aspire to develop with our students, hence, “deep critique.”

The second feature of complex, justice-seeking clinical practice that I thought worth bringing to the surface was easier to describe because of the prior synthetic work of Ascanio Piomelli. Piomelli draws from a wide range of poverty lawyering and critical theoretical sources to define a form that he calls “Democratic Lawyering.” Many clinicians have thought hard about the role of the lawyer in community. Democratic lawyering has stuck with me because of its central animating idea that lawyers may serve to support grassroots collectives in politics and to help them convert their political ideals and aspirations into political struggle in various realms, including protest, electoral politics, and policy and legislation. This was a second quality encompassing a fairly broad skill set that I believe should be added to the list of teaching goals to which legal educators gravitate.

The economic crisis and the subsequent challenges to the legal profession and legal education necessitate further consideration. Although clinicians have a great deal more security now than at any time in the past and clinics are seen as core curricular offerings at many law schools, the perception that clinical education is an expensive luxury is entrenched within legal education, especially when budgets are being shrunk. Bob Kuehn has taken this argument apart. However, it seems essential to me that clinicians go further and articulate an affirmative vision of reform that centers entrenched social problems and clinical practice as the core generators of contemporary legal education. Scholars such as William Henderson and Brian Tamanaha have made a significant impact on the discourse with their reform proposals, which largely make clinical education marginal and, to varying degrees, accept the breakdown of the legal profession as a given. Neither of their reform visions contemplate how legal education might preserve and advance the public, justice-seeking values of the profession. There is little contemplation in these largely neoliberal approaches to higher education of a professional exercising independent judgment in the performance of their duties to clients and the public. In an otherwise highly insightful book, progressive scholar Robin West views clinical education as actually setting back the agenda of critical legal analysis. Clinicians’ views are often dismissed as being focused on status; we are, therefore, burdened with an extra responsibility to lay an intellectual foundation for the centering of clinical practice in legal education.

My essay flags these challenges in the legal education reform discourse, without providing a comprehensive response. In many ways, it is a call to legal educators to begin to articulate reform visions from the standpoint of our client communities and our idealistic students. In the context of unprecedented social movement activity in the United States, it is incumbent on teachers to think creatively about how we might mobilize our educational institutions to support democratic engagement  and to think structurally outside of the box of liberal legalism. Legal educators must consider how we train law students and contribute to the construction of our evolving profession, one not solely defined by economic efficiency, but instead by core commitments to justice and the public good.

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