A blizzard of media coverage on the educational crisis and its unsustainable model concludes that for many students, higher education is no longer such a great deal. This includes law schools. Once a ticket to a secure living—if not wealth for those entering elite law schools, feeders for BigLaw—there is now a legitimate debate whether it’s worth it to go to law school. My answer: it depends.
But this is not about whether—or under what circumstances—law school is worth it or, for that matter, the degree of informed consent they should secure from applicants and enrolling students. That is a whole other debate and one about which I have strong feelings. As the late Joan Rivers would say, “Don’t get me started.”
Once a student is enrolled at law school, there are certain things s/he should be taught. Based upon my experience teaching these very topics mostly to third year students, it’s the first time they have heard about them at law school. So, I conclude—and have substantial anecdotal evidence—that many key issues are not covered in the law school curriculum. This includes:
- How has the legal marketplace changed during the past decade or so, especially after Lehman’s 2008 collapse and the ensuring economic convulsions?
- What is the U.K.’s Legal Services Act of 2007 and why is it instructive, if not a harbinger, of regulatory and Bar changes on this side of the pond?
- Why is corporate law—mostly large firms servicing large corporations—undergoing upheaval?
- Same question for retail law—solo practitioners and small firms representing individuals and small businesses?
- What does “unbundling” mean and why are so many tasks formerly performed by law firms now being done by legal service providers?
- What’s the difference between a law firm and a legal service provider?
- Why is project management, a long-time staple of other professional service firms and businesses, foreign to most lawyers, and why is it important for them to know about it?
- How is technology shaping the delivery of legal services?
- Same question for social media. If it affects geo-politics, why not legal services?
- How are legal services being sold as legal products and what does that portend for lawyers?
- How are these changes affecting lawyers in big firms and small alike?
- What steps are being taken to bridge the gap between unemployed and under-employed lawyers and the access to justice crisis?
- Why is the forecast filled with gloom and doom and why not a focus on new opportunities that exist—and that will be created—for lawyers with the right skillsets?
There are so many more similar and critically important questions that should—must— be explored in law school classrooms. It will take an acknowledgment by the Academy that at least a portion of the curriculum is best taught by practitioners and, more specifically, those in the front line of change. This is important because, as I noted in “What’s a Lawyer? lawyers are functioning differently now than they were just a few years ago.
Joe Walsh’s line is apropos: “We don’t know where we’re goin’ ‘cause we don’t know where we are.” Let’s effect a course correction and lobby law schools to teach students where we are so they will be better prepared to handle wherever it is they are going.