Dean Chemerinsky’s and Professor Jewel’s contributions both raise very important points about the challenges facing legal education reform. Personally, I'm in the camp of people who believe that the legal education model will change. However, it's apparent to me that changes must come predominately from outside of schools and the ABA Section of Legal Education. Survival instincts may prohibit even well-respected, well-meaning faculty scholars from adequately assessing the scope of the problems with the current law school model. But the increasing interest from U.S. Senators should signal to the uninitiated that law schools cannot continue to operate in a bubble. Nor can this discussion continue if everyone ignores the crux of the problem: intolerably high costs and an unacceptable number of unprepared graduates.
What would internal reform even look like if the two core goals are slashing tuition and improving preparedness? Part of the reason internal reform may be difficult to imagine, as Dean Chemerinsky pointed out, is because law schools are governed by faculty, and because substantial changes to the legal education model will alter "what [faculty] have to teach and do." That the Section of Legal Education is captured by similarly consumer-disoriented interests, despite overtures to the contrary, only aggravates the situation and observers. It bears repeating that the Standards Review Committee, Section of Legal Education, and Dean O'Brien in his posting do not once mention how important it is that the cost of obtaining a legal education drastically decline. Reducing costs cannot be the elephant in the room if this discussion is to carry any significance with the public.
Internal reform may also be difficult to imagine because increases in quality are typically tied at the hip to increases in costs. This attitude contributed to the current model and its explosive growth over at least the last 25 years. With little or no downward pressure on the cost of legal education, and a diversity of ideas about what it means to improve the student experience, law schools can introduce new features along with yearly tuition increases, knowing they will be rewarded for it in the U.S. News rankings.
On its face, the idea that costs can decrease while quality increases is fanciful. More to the point, there is substantial denial that there is a problem with the quality of education that law schools provide graduates. Such denial comes out in claims that the "law school crisis" is cyclical, not structural.
Like Dean Chemerinsky, I graduated (albeit this year) without being ready to practice law. Yet, not unlike many law school graduates, I still received a high quality education. This confirms Dean O'Brien's thoughts on the current state of legal education:
Legal education itself has never been in better shape in terms of the preparation that we provide future lawyers. In recent years, our schools have responded to suggestions by the bar and have substantially upgraded legal writing programs and practical skills opportunities. The process currently in place ensures that graduating lawyers are well trained for a variety of roles.
There are two important disconnects here. First, how can I claim that I received a high quality education and also say that people are wrong to deny there's a problem with the quality of education? Second, how can Professor Olivas claim that graduates are well trained for a variety of roles, despite the increasing reticence of clients to pay for junior associates? We can reconcile both sets of questions by examining how each claim uses a different metric to evaluate quality. The first claim in each set speaks to doing something well, but not necessarily producing graduates who are/feel ready to practice law.
This brings me back to the potential fantasy of reducing costs while improving quality. In our evolved-definition-of-quality world, we may find that the current pedagogy badly misses the mark. In this case, radical change may mean substantially changing the composition of legal educators, whose salaries and benefits make up a large chunk of law school operating costs. If faculty composition radically shifts to include more practitioners teaching as adjuncts in specific, practice-oriented classes, while tenured faculty must seek grants to continue their scholarly endeavors, we could see the costs of educating aspiring lawyers decline drastically.— Kyle McEntee, executive director of Law School Transparency.