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TCL > November 2011 Issue > Trending: Law School Reform and Legal Education Innovation

November 2011       Vol. 40, No. 11       Page  101
Notices, Products, and Services

Trending: Law School Reform and Legal Education Innovation
by Alli Gerkman

When articles or topics become popular online, they are said to be "trending." In these articles, which will publish up to three times per year, Alli Gerkman discusses recent headlines, articles, blogs, and online discussions on trending legal topics. Readers may submit trending topics of interest to the legal profession to agerkman@du.edu.


 

About the Author

Alli Gerkman is a lawyer and works as Content Manager at IAALS, the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System at the University of Denver—agerkman@du.edu.


Law School Reform and
Legal Education Innovation

These days, it is nearly impossible to follow legal news (or even mainstream news1) without finding charged discussions about what law schools and legal educators should be doing better. The latest crescendo of talk about legal education reform has, of course, been amplified by a lagging economy and law school graduates who are buckling under the weight of unprecedented levels of student debt.

"Welcome to My Nightmare"

An overview of recent online discussions about legal education starts close to home. In August, University of Colorado law professor Paul Campos made waves around the country (and no doubt inside the walls of the University of Colorado’s Wolf Law Building) when he launched the then-anonymous blog entitled "Inside the Law School Scam." In his inaugural post, "Welcome to My Nightmare," Campos wrote:

In the end, the fact that law professors don’t intend to scam their students is irrelevant. We are scamming them, or many of them, and we know we are—or we would know if we paid any attention at all to the current relationship between legal academia, legal practice, and the socio-economic system in general, which naturally is why so many of us avoid doing so at all costs.2

If you don’t spend countless hours reading law blogs, you might not know that Professor Campos’s use of the word "scam" wasn’t simply careless polemic. It was a nod to the growing ranks of "scambloggers"—that is, recent law grads turned bloggers who focus on what they consider to be the great scam perpetrated by law schools on their students.3 Their complaints, many of which are legitimate (even if at times crudely conveyed), can be simply expressed: law graduates have too much debt, too few skills, and too few job prospects. At best, they think law schools have not been forthcoming about the lack of employment opportunities for their graduates; at worst, they say that many schools are intentionally manipulating jobs data to mislead incoming students.

Although the complaints and warnings of the scambloggers are disregarded by some as mere "whining," at least one law professor thinks they are forcing us to change the way we talk about legal education. Lucille Jewel, an associate professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, recently told The National Law Journal: "Despite its nontraditional approach, the scam blogging movement has had a palpable effect on the debate of an important issue facing the legal profession."4

Walking the Walk All the Way to the Courthouse

For some recent law graduates, the time for talking—that is, blogging—is over. Students from two law schools have filed their first post-law school lawsuits not as lawyers but as plaintiffs.5 Three students from New York Law School and four students from Thomas M. Cooley Law School have sued their alma maters for deceptive jobs statistics that they say inflate the number of full-time jobs for recent graduates and the salaries of those who have found work.

Engaged Educators—Preparing the Practice

Meanwhile, quiet progress in legal education innovation is being made every day. A growing number of law professors in schools around the country have embraced their role as the educators of tomorrow’s lawyers by experimenting with innovative models of education in their classrooms.

Others are proposing models that might have been unthinkable in years past. "The Law School Firm," an article by Bradley T. Borden and Robert J. Rhee that made the rounds after the idea came to light in The National Law Journal,6 explores the possibility of training graduates in a law school firm that is based loosely on the teaching hospitals used to train doctors.7

Legal professionals and organizations in Colorado also have joined the discussions about what the future holds for legal education. In collaboration with Bill Sullivan, lead author of the 2007 Carnegie Report, Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law,8 the University of Denver’s Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (IAALS) is participating on a national level in the evaluation and direction of legal education. On August 22, 2011, IAALS launched "Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers"9 to give innovative educators around the country a platform for shared learning, experimentation, ongoing measurement, and collective implementation. The initiative highlights courses that embody the Carnegie model and provides resources to legal educators who want to implement the courses in their own classrooms. Although change won’t happen overnight, Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers promises to be a long-term support system for innovative educators committed to improving the system one course at a time.

Follow the Trend

1. Room for Debate, "The Case Against Law School: Should the standard three years of law school, followed by the bar exam, be the only path to a legal career?" The New York Times The Opinion Pages, available at www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/07/21/the-case-against-law-school.

2. "Welcome to My Nightmare," available at insidethelawschoolscam.blogspot.com/2011/08/welcome-to-my-nightmare.html.

3. See, e.g., subprimejd.blogspot.com.

4. Sloan, "Unruly ‘scam bloggers’ are changing legal education, researcher argues," The National Law Journal (June 29, 2011), available at www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202498922216.

5. Green, "New York Law School, Thomas Cooley, accused of job statistics fraud," The National Law Journal (Aug. 10, 2011), available at www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202510793554.

6. See Sloan, "What if law schools opened their own firms?" The National Law Journal (Aug. 17, 2011), available at www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1202511523234.

7. Borden and Rhee, "The Law School Firm," 63 South Carolina L.R. (Aug. 2011), available at papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?
abstract_id=1906797.

8. Sullivan et al., Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law (Jossey-Bass: 2007), available at www.josseybass.com/WileyCDA/WileyTitle/productCd-078798261X.html.

9. See "Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers—Putting Knowledge to Practice," available at educatingtomorrowslawyers.du.edu.

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