Making Law School Millennial-Friendly
So you think enrollments are down because of poor job prospects for graduates? Well, that may be one reason. This week, Montré D. Carodine, an associate professor of law at the University of Alabama, posits another theory: The mentality of law schools alienates millennials.
Oh, boy. Here comes another Gen-Y bashing session.
Actually, no. Carodine’s observations actually echo criticisms directed at law schools from the past 100 years. In a nutshell, she views professors as out of touch and too focused on scholarship, theory, and tenure at the expense of staying current with best practices and employer needs. Call it a generational conflict as much as an institutional one. In particular, here is what Carodine perceives as the fatal flaw that’s driving millennials away from law schools:
- “Law schools may be great at teaching critical thinking, but they stink at encouraging creative thinking and guiding students on non-traditional paths. Many students pursue a JD expecting flexible options with their degree, but they find that law school is largely inflexible, often killing creative spirits upon arrival.”
Bet you’ve heard the variation of that critique: “Students enter law school as people and leave as lawyers.” And every student has probably complained, at one point or another, about the curriculum’s soul-crushing workload and expectations.
But the problem goes beyond students feeling boxed in. In particular, law schools seemingly goes against what millennials truly value:
- “Schools are disconnected from and less popular with millennials because they are driven by innovation and entrepreneurialism.”
I think Carodine meant to say that millennials are driven by innovation and entrepreneurialism–not the schools. Regardless, law school faculty, in Carodine’s view, are cloistered. As a result, they remain trapped in the past with their lessons holding little relevance to today:
- “Schools today lack the innovative spark because the professors who run law schools mostly talk to each other.”
Of course, this is not necessarily the faculty’s fault, as their efforts are channeled toward scholarship. And that’s because their research satisfies their underlying needs: Security and recognition:
- “Scholarship is the tenured and tenure-track professor’s lifeblood, and it is a major source of an institution’s reputational capital within the academy. The relentless pressure to produce “scholarly” writings makes it impossible for most professors to devote time to anything other than traditional research leaves.”
So what is Carodine’s prescription? As you’d guess, it is the usual cliché of marching professors out of the ivory tower and into the real world:
- “The solution is to send the policy makers — the tenured professors — into the real world. Doing so would breathe new life into our curricula and enhance our scholarship (even if fewer research leaves translates to less scholarship, what we do produce would be far more relevant and impactful). “Experience sabbaticals” funded by our schools (if necessary) to work in corporations, small businesses, law firms, nonprofits or government agencies should be normalized to give us fresh perspectives on the world that our students will face … Imagine if every year at least one professor on every law school faculty in the country took an experience sabbatical. Guaranteed it would transform legal education as we know it.”
What are your thoughts? Would giving professors a “job” make them more useful in the classroom (and appealing to millennials)? If not, what would you suggest? We’d love to hear from you.