To Henderson, the legal business is evolving – and schools need to shift away from a model anchored in theory and moot court practice. As an alternative, he conducts a first-year course called “The Legal Profession,” which gives students early exposure to legal ethics, professional competencies, and practice economics. In other words, it delivers a sweeping overview of how law is really practiced beyond dusty cases and specious TV shows.
While Henderson isn’t a cynic, he has a warning to those who believe the legal world will return to its halcyon pre-recession age. “I think [this] primary prescriptive advice – in essence, our problems will be cured with the passage of time – is naïve and potentially dangerous to those who follow it.”
TRADITIONALISTS URGE CAUTION
Don’t assume the most influential legal educators are wild-eyed reformers. Take Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California-Irvine’s law school, which was founded in 2009. Despite not being fully accredited until 2014, Irvine places the second-highest percentage of its students in federal clerkships (behind only Yale Law). However, don’t look for Chemerinsky, a constitutional expert who has argued before the U.S. Supreme Court, to embrace change on its face.
For example, the No. 2-ranked Chemerinsky, in the New York Times, slammed President Obama’s suggestion to cut law school to two years, calling it “a terrible idea.” “If law school were just of two years’ duration,” he writes, “the first things to be cut would be clinical education and interdisciplinary courses, which are the best innovations since we went to law school in the 1970s.” His alternative: focusing on developing courses that “deal with the crucial problems of our time in fields like banking law, national security, conflict resolution, food safety, Internet law and migration policy.”
And don’t expect any sympathy for poorly managed schools from Chemerinsky, who strikes an Adam Smith pose when it comes to competition. “Even if some law schools do not survive the current contraction . . . that would not necessarily be a bad thing. After all, in so many other fields, we rely on market mechanism to weed out the weakest competitors.”
In other words, Chemerinsky fears that rash acts could produce more damage than no action at all. That may be a conservative approach, but it doesn’t compare to Brian Leiter’s throwback positions. Think experiential education is a panacea for students for real world practice? Leiter, a University of Chicago law professor who ranks No. 3 on the 2014 list, argues in a Huffington Post column that “no school in the United States is actually equipped to [offer] ‘experiential’ learning adequate to the full range of careers lawyers pursue.” He cites areas like corporate and partnership tax and corporate takeover litigation as examples of areas that would naturally be limited to a few schools in particular regions.
Leiter also bristles at the notion that the lawyers are practitioners similar to dentists and veterinarians. One crucial fact about lawyering distinguishes it from dentistry, Leiter says. “Law is fundamentally a discursive discipline, dealing in norms, arguments, and reasons. That is why legal education . . . emphasizes learning legal rules and legal reasoning. One needs a lot of knowledge to be a good dentist, to be sure, but a lot of good dentistry is not a matter of knowing rules and how to reason about them.”
And law school reformers? Let’s just say that Leiter dismisses them as academics “with a pedagogical agenda” who are using declining enrollments as a means to push their pet agenda. Acidic? No doubt. But his iconoclastic positions definitely deserve a spot at the table.
BLOGGERS EARNING CREDIBILITY
Think the most potent legal discussions are awakened in legal journals and big name newspapers? Actual, they’re often rooted in legal blogs that are shaking up the old order. And one of the most influential is Paul Caron’s TaxProf Blog. Here, Caron, a Pepperdine law professor, curates and analyzes the latest legal news ranging from op-eds to studies. In addition, Caron maintains The Law Professor Blogs Network, which includes over 40 blogs in areas like civil rights, contracts, legal writing, mergers and acquisitions, and nonprofits. Currently, over 100 deans, professors, and practicing attorneys contribute to these blogs (including the aforementioned Leiter who authors two blogs here).