Legal education in America is at a crossroads. And it’s time for administrators and faculty at law schools to take action. That is the message from Lewis and Clark Law School dean emeritus, James Huffman.
According to Huffman, the continuous decline in enrollment (since a historic peak in 2010) has pushed many law schools into economic difficulties. The current business model for many law schools is based on tuition dollars. The students pay to keep the law school going. But now fewer students want to go to law school. So the law schools have less money.
Huffman says most legal educators “assume” there are three options to weather this storm. Law schools can cut expenses, try to maintain enrollment numbers, or petition their universities to cover the expenses until the market for students stabilizes and begins to grow.
But the truth is, according to Huffman, none of these options will work. Where are law schools going to cut expenses? By moving to less desirable buildings or cutting professors? Then how will they attract students? Speaking of students, there continues to be a dearth of interested ones. Risking a budget on the interest of students is dangerous. Universities sinking more money into a school with declining interest also seems unlikely.
So schools outside of the well-endowed elite will have to make changes sooner rather than later, says Huffman. He provides a new business model for struggling law schools. First, schools should cut faculty in half by requiring faculty to devote most of their time to teaching. Currently, tenure at law schools is largely based on production of scholarship. Consequently, that’s what professors focus on.
Schools should also eliminate tenure and take advantage of a competitive job market for legal educators. Simply put, creating competition for sought after legal education jobs could improve teaching quality while reducing costs. Next, Huffman suggests shortening law school from three years to two. According to Huffman, a well-conceived two-year curriculum would more than suffice to prepare students for the legal market, especially since a lot of value comes from experiential learning.
Finally, Huffman says schools should halt the facilities arms race and make better use of instructing through technology. Obviously, money could be saved (or put into other efforts) if law schools stopped trying to build the newest, most gorgeous buildings. There could also be savings from more online coursework.
Whether or not law schools begin to make drastic changes on a larger scale is yet to be seen. However, Huffman is proof that some education leaders are starting to get there.
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