Law school as most of us know it is doomed. Law school today – which is but a gloss on Langdell’s Harvard – attempts to prepare students to practice general law in an 1870s world. Students learn a bit about criminal law, a smattering of contracts, a little about torts, a smidgeon of property law, some of the essentials about how cases are moved through a court system. When they emerge, they typically can read and analyze cases, and are told they have learned to “think like a lawyer.” In a way, they have.
But, at least in the typical required curriculum, they haven’t been taught how to negotiate, they haven’t been taught how to build teams or work within organizations, and they haven’t been taught how to work with clients. They don’t learn project management techniques and wouldn’t know how to discuss modern information management technologies. It would be considered déclassé at most schools to suggest that they should learn how to market themselves, either within the organizations they will join or to the general public. They haven’t been shown how to build a balanced life in the law, one where they can achieve professional excellence and yet have a satisfying personal life. In short, they haven’t been taught how to “think like a lawyer” in many of the core areas that define successful lawyers today, and will increasingly define them tomorrow. But that’s not why law schools are doomed. Law schools are doomed for a more fundamental reason: law schools train only lawyers. Like a zombie, law schools stagger forward reliant on a vision from a past life, ignoring today’s diverse world of legal services and the pervasive changes wrought by the rise of the administrative state. To live, legal education needs to be connected to law as it is experienced today. New institutions should be designed based not on what best serves law students or legal educators, but on what best serves the needs of today’s society.
This article explores why such successor institutions now make sense, and examines in broad strokes what their offerings might look like.
Campbell, Ray Worthy, The End of Law Schools: Legal Education in the Era of Legal Service Businesses (November 24, 2014). Mississippi Law Journal, Forthcoming; Peking University School of Transnational Law Research Paper No. 15-7. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2530051 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2530051
With rising costs, pressure on performance metrics and competitive high-profile rankings, law schools are more than ever before being judged on a consumer satisfaction basis by both students and the public. While this perception has been growing over the past two decades, it has reached a crisis point in legal education. When students have their choice of educational institutions, they may act like consumers, and choose to spend their money based on metrics that satisfy them as buyers. This consumer mindset not only impacts admissions, but also can play out in the retention of students. The loss of students transferring out can take a serious toll on a law school, including potential detriments in bar passage, productive classrooms, the loss of future high performing alumni, and the cost of replacing the tuition generation. Schools are thus pressured to address the consumer issue.
Many of the conflicts that arise as between students as consumers, and their institutions, are not necessarily based in the substance of rules. Instead, much of the complaints can easily stem from the institution’s transparency and communication about various aspects of the educational experience, from in the classroom, to a student’s prospects on the job market. As such, institutions should be considering the student perspective in formulating how they present their program of education, and the various aspects within it.
While others have asked the question outright whether college students are consumers, this article does not debate whether law students treat their institutions with a consumer mindset. It presumes they do and seeks to solve the problem for institutions. Part II of this article summarizes how this mindset arose in education and specifically how it arose in legal education, and examines previous conflicts between students and institutions as a result. Part III examines different areas of law school operations where traditional academic mindset and student consumer mindset may clash, and offers solutions and strategies as to where and how the consumer pressure should be embraced to make institutional change, and where it should be resisted to ensure the consumer pressure does not result in changes that are not in students’ best long-term interests. Part IV offers some conclusions on the approach.
Vollweiler, Debra Moss, Law School as a Consumer Product: Beat ’em or Join ’em? (July 10, 2019). Available at SSRN.