[Guest post by Rebecca Love Kourlis, a member of the executive committee of Educating Tomorrow's Lawyers. Kourlis is executive director of IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System, and was previously a justice of the Colorado Supreme Court.]
Will legal education change? This is the question asked by Dean Erwin Chemerinsky in his recent post, responding to Professor Henderson's post that ends with the inevitability of change. It’s a fair question. We suggest that the answer is that not only is change mandatory at this point in time, but it is also already occurring. The genie is out of the bottle in classrooms around the country.
Why now? We know that several powerful forces are colliding to create a perfect storm for legal education reform. Law schools and law school graduates are under intense pressure to perform. Clients are resisting the traditional law firm training model that taught new lawyers practical skills on the client’s dime.
But, of course, systemic change doesn’t happen overnight. Progress will be incremental. The people who can make it happen are the deans and law professors who are committed to the best possible education for tomorrow’s lawyers.
Throughout the country, many law professors are already forcing progress by changing the one thing over which they have immediate control: the classroom. The 2007 Carnegie Report made recommendations for improving legal education and highlighted the need to blend the teaching of substantive doctrine with development of practical skills and professional identify to graduate lawyers who are ready to practice. The recommendations found in the Carnegie Report can now be seen in action in law classes around the country. And many innovative legal educators have devoted years to creating an integrated experience for their students. Like Roberto Corrada, who teaches labor law by having his class form a union and engage in negotiations with him over every aspect of the class—including the exam. Or Gillian Hadfield, whose students learn advanced contracts by working on complex contractual challenges in teams of four.
As advocates for legal education innovation, we must support those professors, learn from them, and provide an environment that encourages more experimentation and innovation.
This is why we launched Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, which leverages the Carnegie Model and the work of law schools and professors committed to legal education reform to align legal education with the needs of an evolving profession. We provide a supported platform for shared learning, experimentation, ongoing measurement and collective implementation.
So will legal education change? We think it will. In many ways, it already is. Some legal educators are slowly dismantling the status quo, holding onto what works, letting go of what doesn’t, and experimenting with new ways to graduate lawyers who are prepared for modern practice. Change is not an event; it’s a process. We hope you’ll play a role in it.