Many advocates have been calling for change in legal education this past year, focusing on the debt of students, the effect of Big Law on the practice, the declining legal job market, the value proposition for law school, the need for better experiential learning and a variety of other topics. Among the leaders worth following are Bill Henderson, Nancy Rapoport, Brian Tamanaha, and Richard Suskind.
As part of the Chase College of Law strategic planning process, I recently entered the fray, focusing on one aspect of the changes to the legal practice that I had not seen fully addressed in the academic literature – namely the increasing automation of legal services provided by solo and small to medium sized law firms.
The article is: Legal Education in Disruption: The Headwinds and Tailwinds of Technology.
By harnessing improvements on communications and computational systems, law firms are producing a revolution in the practice of law. Self-help legal manuals have transformed into sophisticated interactive software; predictive coding can empower clients to receive sophisticated legal advice from a machine; socially mediated portals select among potential lawyers and assess the quality of the advice given; and virtual law firms threaten to distintermediate the grand edifices of twentieth century Big Law. These changes may profoundly restructure the legal practice, undermining the business model for many solo and small firm practices.
This paper focuses on the implications of these profound disruptive changes. It looks at the expectations the market may place on future lawyers and by extension the training necessary for lawyers entering the practice of law. The final section reflects a suggested curriculum and programmatic redesign, highlighting one possible future legal educational model, complete with acquiescence to existing constraints found in American Bar Association and other accreditation regimes.
Part one of the article tracks the changes that automation is bringing to the legal profession from self-help online tools to predictive document drafting and other innovations. It analyzes the potential of the virtual law firm, unbundled (or specialized) legal services and the development of virtual law firm networks that will grow into the standard for small firm practice.
Part two translates these changes for legal education. While much of the core subjects taught in law school today will remain the same (i.e. Contracts, Torts, Property, Civil Procedure, Constitutional Law, Evidence, Corporation, Tax, etc.) much else needs to change.
- Like the other advocates for skills training, the article emphasizes clinical and field placement education for students.
- Like advocates for better instructional design, it calls for law school to each subject like logic and communication skills explicitly rather than hoping that students will glean these skills from the first year classroom discourse.
- It changes the focus on professionalism by recognizing that law is also a business, requiring law schools to prepare graduates with courses and training on the business of lawyering (including accounting, human resources, business development, legal business ethics, marketing, leadership and management training).
- It also emphasizes that 64% of law practice is done for business entities and an additional 10% of attorneys work in-house. So the emphasis of law schools should better reflect the kinds of lawyering that are actual taking place. While this does not suggest abandoning litigation or the teaching of how to serve individuals, it requires a more accurate balance so graduates are less surprised by the environment in which they practice law.
- Finally, it highlights that the nature of business has become global and technical so courses on international business, intellectual property and other fields relevant to the success of one’s clients should comprise the electives. Moreover, the proposal recognizes that many of these courses are better learned from the disciplines where the clients are trained, so interdisciplinary programs with certificates and even joint degrees should be encouraged.
- The trade-off means that fewer credits and course hours are expended on the core subject matter law school teaches. This will not be a problem since the measure of seat time is a poor approximation of a student’s learning or competency. Instead, competency testing for both skills and knowledge should be integrated throughout the curriculum, allowing students to move at their own pace and demonstrate readiness to leave law school using something more precise than a six-semester schedule.
The paper is a draft, and I truly look forward to the conversation it generates. I would appreciate feedback and hope to post additional blogs on the dialogue as advocates and critics law school incorporate the changes into small firm practice into the debate.