2015 Year-End Report

Special Issue • December 2015
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Legal Education

Training lawyers for a new age


This transcript is derived from the video above and has been edited for style and for print publication. For more on this topic, read Volume 1, Issue 5.

Legal education is facing enormous challenges, not just here in the United States but around the world. Of course it makes perfect sense that if the legal profession is changing, the question of how best to prepare students for those changes is a natural one. It is also an incredibly difficult one because we don’t know what he end point is going to be in terms of where the legal profession is going or where legal careers are going. That makes it especially challenging to know how to prepare students for a world in change. We are seeing a number of interesting innovations both at what I would call the traditional law school level—which in the United States is a post-graduate model but in much of the rest of the world is an undergraduate model—as well as with respect to legal education for practitioners.

In the traditional law school world, we are seeing a shift away from traditional doctrinal, legal analysis and code-based courses toward those that combine various kinds of experiential learning. This may be through legal clinics or simulations or lessons that incorporate cases studies—not traditional kinds of studies, but those taught in business schools and public policy schools that involve real situations and an in-depth examination of lawyering in context. We are also seeing the integration of different disciplines, not just in the “law and” movement—“law and economics” or “law and politics”— which has been going on here in the United States for a long time, but in terms of giving people the opportunity to be qualified in a serious, if preliminary, way in important fields of study like financial concepts or information technology or public policy. There are proposals (some of which we have made here in The Practice (see Volume 1, Issue 3), based on a paper I wrote with Ben Heineman and William Lee) that suggests we ought to use the third year of law school to allow people to get three-year joint JD–MBAs or JD–master’s in public policy or JD–master’s in information technology. We are seeing more interest in this approach here in the United States.

Around the world, we are seeing an interesting shift from the purely undergraduate model of law to a model that incorporates more post-graduate or at least more post-four-year college legal education. We are also seeing a move towards more private legal education. Most law schools have been public for a very long time now; some of the best law schools in different countries are private. That has interesting implications for access to law and legal careers. And we are seeing a big move toward for-profit legal education.

We are seeing all of these at what we would call the law school level but also at the executive education level. Here at Harvard Law School, for example, we created programs in leadership in law firms and leadership in corporate counsel, which are designed to allow practitioners to come back and engage with the law school around some of the issues that were not really taught in school but that are critically important to them as leaders in various kinds of professional service organizations. We are seeing that move in many other places around the world as well.

Finally, we are seeing integration in which people are using both in-person methods and technology to bring law students, practitioners, and those from outside of the profession, like venture capitalists or businesspeople or those who represent clients or governments, together to think about solving common legal problems. One of the most exciting of these approaches is being done by Michele DeStefano, a scholar who is affiliated with the Center. It’s called LawWithoutWalls and involves thirty or forty law schools, business schools, and other academic organizations from around the world that are sending students for both in-person and virtual sessions to solve important legal problems in either legal practice or legal education.

We expect to see many more innovations of this kind, and we are going to be keeping track of those here at The Practice and reporting on them to you.

2015 Year-End Report Special Issue • December 2015