The Lawyer’s Emissary: An Interview With Loyola’s David Yellen

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Developing practical skills is growing increasingly important to students (and employers). How can law schools better integrate experiential learning so students can provide greater value from day one?

One of the good things that’s come out of this crisis environment in the last few years is that schools are paying a lot more attention to this. There are a few things being done on that front. Number one, schools have tried to increase the number of courses that are directly experiential in nature. Although not too many schools have expanded their live client clinics, which are the most expensive form of experiential learning, many schools have ramped up their externship programs and increased the number of simulation-based courses, which can be a great way for students to get experiential learning under faculty supervision to try a case or negotiate a deal.

The next step that would be great would be to model ourselves on the teaching hospital nature of medical education. We could find a way for students to work under the supervision of lawyers, while still in school, to get the experience and then come back to school to reflect on what they’ve learned and how they’ve grown in that way. There are a lot of experiments that many schools are engaging in that way.

Lastly, a lot of traditional faculty members are incorporating more writing, negotiation, and other simulated-type real lawyering experiences in their classrooms. So the first year of law school is not changing too much. And that’s fine. But the second and third year is becoming more-and-more of an opportunity to integrate intellectual work with skills training.

As far as Loyola is concerned, on the clinic side, we’ve been able to add to the number of clinical spots held by students principally through developing a fellowship program where recent graduates work in the clinics and work on their cases and supervise students.

On the externship side, a few years ago we hired a faculty member completely devoted to developing, expanding, and supervising our externship program. And we had a number of workshops to help classroom faculty learn to include simulation and other experiential learning models into their teaching. So we’ve been working on all three prongs of classic experiential learning.

Where do you see the growth areas in law in the coming years?

It’s really hard to predict the future in terms of subject areas. A lot of subject areas are often cyclical, whether they’re growing or not, whether you’re talking about corporate transactions or bankruptcy. One trend that’s not going away is the impact on technology on the practice of law, along with the need for lawyers to be entrepreneurial, to understand business concepts and how to market themselves. So rather than focusing on particular subject areas, we have worked more recently on related skills that are essential regardless of what area they choose to practice. Intellectual property has been a growth area for a while. We tend not to shift our curriculum based off that because those trends are hard to identify in the short-term.

Many law schools outside the Top 20 are struggling. They are perceived to be of lower quality and have smaller endowments. What would you suggest to help these schools compete better?

It’s certainly true that most schools outside Top 20 have lower endowments. And that means they are more tuition-dependant and more vulnerable to market forces at work today. But I don’t think it’s true that the Top 20 schools are free-and-clear. They’ve suffered in terms of applications, cost consciousness by their students, and fewer of the highest paying jobs that they’ve been used to their graduates getting. The impact has been different on different types of schools. But it has had a significant impact on everyone.

In terms of competing, specialized programs and consortiums among schools are trends that are taking place. Whether or not it’s helpful competitively, it’s certainly helpful for our students. The idea of specialized programs is not new at all. But I think it might be increasing a little. But the idea of consortiums among schools is newer. For example, here in Chicago over the past few years, we’ve worked together with two of our competitor schools – Chicago Kent and DePaul – to allow students to take classes at the other schools to help them get curriculum opportunities that each school itself may not be able to offer. One of the competitive advantages of consortiums is that you can broaden the opportunities for students in a cost-effective way. So instead of each campus having a course with five students in it, we pool our resources. Then students can have broader choices and greater learning opportunities without adding to the cost of their education.  And these kinds of partnerships are beginning to take root nationally. And I think that’s going to be a growing trend.

What changes to law school programs do you see foresee happening in the next three to five years?

Most of our schools are downsizing in students, staff, and faculty. We went through a number of years where it was always easier to do more because of rising number of students and tuition rising faster than inflation. There was money to do what we wanted to do and what students wanted us to do. Now, we’re much more in an era of scarcity. Scarcity of students and scarcity of revenue…and we’re undergoing a challenging adjustment to that. At the same time, calls for focusing experience more on preparing students for practice are not diminishing.

So the big challenge for law schools is to continue this enhanced focus on what our students need to succeed and to remain vibrant intellectual entities. Despite what some of the critics say, legal scholarship is a public value and does good…and most of us don’t want to abandon it. But the resources aren’t there to keep doing things the way we’ve been doing them. So we need to trim back on the things that are less essential. The trend toward lower teaching loads for faculty is reversing; most teaching loads are going to go up. And we’ll continue to work more closely with other parts of the university and the profession to be more efficient and focus more on what’s essential for our mission.

We talk about a ‘new normal,’ a fast-paced world with fewer resources and a more entrepreneurial mindset. What advice do you give to students to help them navigate this world?

A critical thing is that if you enroll as a law student, don’t think of your job as simply being just a student. You have to master this new language and new way of thinking. Students should think of themselves as budding professionals from day one. That means to look to develop the things other than the intellectual skills that law school is so good at teaching. What I mean is, look for as many contacts who can teach you things, introduce you to people, or mentor you. Look at every encounter as a chance to get to know someone who might, someday, be important to your career. So that means go to the mentoring event your school sponsors. Join an organization that gets you into the legal community. If you’re not naturally good at marketing yourself, practice that. Everyone can get better at that. Use your time in school to start developing those tools.