So here’s my question: If you could improve legal education in this country today, how would you do it?
Last November, I asked five law student bloggers for their responses (find them here, they really are worth reading). Since I’ve been doing a bunch of complaining, here are a few things I’d change if I ran a law school:
1. Institute four core curriculum areas. Here they are, along with the bloggers I’d recruit in each:
Legal Knowledge: I’d leave this to the law professors already in the business, because they’ve already got their lesson plans done. I’d put Sabrina Pacifici in charge of them all, though.
Client Service: I’d split the task for developing this curriculum between Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba, Zane Safrit, Kathy Sierra, and the CEO’s of Ritz-Carlton and Nordstrom— not a lawyer among them. That’s on purpose. I’d also bring in Ben Cowgill to teach legal ethics.
Law Firm Management and Marketing: This one is tough — only because there are so many choices. Bruce MacEwen gets tenure right away as do Gerry Riskin, Ed Poll and Kevin O’Keefe. I’d also add Rosa Say and Lisa Haneberg to teach the art of management, and, if they’re ready for the cushy life of academia, Tom Peters and Seth Godin to shake it up from time to time. I’d also add Larry Bodine and Ross Fishman to the mix.
Practical Skills: There are so many great practice-area specific blawggers out there, I’d have a hard time chosing the right ones. Instead, I’d leave that task to Tom Mighell who has the biggest “blawg of the day” rolodex in the country. My only requirement? Find room for Evan Schaeffer to teach trial skills, and Denise Howell and Ernie the Attorney to teach whatever the hell they want. I’d also farm out the entire Intellectual Property department to the ReThink(IP) guys (who’d find a way to deliver their grades via RSS).
2. Bring in Bar/Bri as a curriculum consultant. If Richard Conviser can teach you everything you need to pass the bar in two months, imagine what he’d be able to teach in three years! And while I’m at it, I’d negotiate a discount with Bar/Bri and make the bar review course free to the students (or included in their tuition).
3. Develop a three-way mentorship program. Assign every incoming 1L a lawyer and a client as mentors. Make the client someone who is in the practice area the student wants to enter after school (though this may pose some liability problems for students wanting to practice criminal law). Learning the old way of doing things from practicing lawyers is important, but the client contact would give a distinctive boost to the program. I’m convinced that client contact is what law students crave — because after all, if they join a big firm, they won’t see another real client in the flesh for several years.
4. Auction off legal research access to West or Lexis. For the privilege of exclusive access to the law students, I’d make the company promise to give five years of free service to graduating students.
5. Deliver lectures via podcasts. I’d encourage students to attend class with attendance bonuses (an added 1–2% to their final grade), but wouldn’t require them to attend class. Law students are adults, after all. Let them decide how important listening to that boring professor’s lecture is to them. Which leads me to …
6. Teach the professors to speak. I’d bring in Bert Decker and pay him double what he asks for to work with the professors on their presentation skills. This may be the single most cost-effective way to improve class attendance and student satisfaction.
7. Stop blowing smoke up students’ a**** about job placement. Admit right off that some students will be lousy lawyers and give them a way out of school with grace and dignity (see number 11). Also, I’d bring in lawyers who’ve either failed as lawyers or chosen another field to help students understand that law practice is really, really hard. I’d also make Curt Rosengren my Dean of Career Services.
8. Reach out to small firms. Seriously. Carolyn Elefant gets the nod here as my Director of Outreach to Real Lawyers. I wouldn’t ignore solo and small firm lawyers just because I want to get my school’s ranking in U.S. News and World Report up with the bucks the big firms pay. Solo and small firm lawyers can help law schools. I’d seek out successful small firm lawyers and give them an opportunity to share their mistakes and advice. I’d also make sure to give them something in return: access to student help, great CLE’s, free food and beer.
9. Ignore big firms. Seriously. (As an aside, if other schools are taking any of these suggestions seriously, then big law firms don’t care about their graduates anyway.) I’d make your students understand how miserable life can be for many big firm associates. Let students chose that path if they want to , but for God’s sake, don’t push them into it.
10. Partner with other schools. I’d partner with business schools, design schools, or schools of social work. I’d teach my school’s students to work with (and learn from ) the kinds of people they’ll interact with in the real world. Hell, I’d even partner with/adopt local elementary and high schools.
11. Guarantee student satisfaction. If I couldn’t deliver a satisfying scholastic experience, then I’d figure out how. One idea: Give the first semester of law school to students for free. If students don’t want to stay, I’ve given them a way to do what they want to do, and not feel trapped in school for another 2.5 years. Everyone will be happier. Students will be in school because they want to be. Professors will be teaching motivated students. And think of the positive publicity! Admission applications would go through the roof.
12. Remember, the law is not rocket science. I once proposed a class on small firm management to a St. Louis law school. One professor rejected the idea because he didn’t think it would be “academically rigorous enough.” That’s like refusing to teach doctors to give patients aspirin when the patient is having a heart attack because it’s not as rigorous as teaching open heart surgery. Law school, like law practice, can be difficult, but it doesn’t have to be hard for the sake of being hard.
13. Remember, your students are your clients. If you actually run a law school, remember, your best source for ideas and inspiration are under your roof. Ask your students how they’d make law school better. You’ll get much better ideas than these. And one more thing, don’t be invisible. Your students want to know who you are and what makes you tick. I shared about five words with the Dean of my law school when I was at Washington University. I never had much to say to him, and he never introduced himself to me, or asked me a single question. Know how much cash I’ve given to my school? Less than I made from law.com’s sponsorship of my blog.
Well, that’s it. If you want to chime in on changing law school, feel free to do so in the comments to this post. I look forward to your suggestions.