Law Schools

Making Law School Millennial-Friendly

Law school applications are down. It looks like the Millennials just don’t want to go to law school. It’s probably because they’re too busy be lazy and texting, amirite?

Or, if we’re not going to jump on lazy stereotypes that have been passed down from generation to generation since Maynard G. Krebs roamed the Earth, maybe there’s something wrong with the way that law schools approach education and the Millennials just happen to be the generation that inherited the sluggish job market that exposed the festering problems within the legal academy.

Many law schools have suggested that more “practice ready” clinical education is the solution. Elie thinks this is basically a marketing gimmick. I think it’s a valuable complement to legal education, but certainly not a replacement for other reforms.

But maybe the answer is not so much about making “practice ready” students, but making “practice ready” professors….

Professor Montré D. Carodine of the University of Alabama School of Law doesn’t see Millennials as spoiled online denizens, which means she’s automatically disqualified herself to ever write for Time magazine. Instead, she sees a generation brought up to revere innovation and entrepreneurialism. More than any recent generation, the Millennials have been fed the idea that the path to success is not soldiering up the corporate cursus honorum, but to invent something amazing and sell it in a matter of months for billions. Whether it’s a generational thing or just a matter of the job climate, Millennials want some indication that their investment in higher education will pay dividends, rather than trusting, “Hey, it’s a law degree… that’s always been a solid job in the past!”

Here’s where law schools shout “clinics,” but Professor Carodine thinks there’s more to being “practice ready” than “take traditional model, add in six months as a glorified paralegal, and stir.” She thinks that there are opportunities to teach students about the practical side of law beyond 3L clinics if the legal academy is willing to look outside its cloisters:

Schools today lack the innovative spark because the professors who run law schools mostly talk to each other. Some faculties even pressure professors to live around and socialize with each other. Despite this isolating atmosphere, I know a few professors who have ventured out to work in the “real world” in various capacities. The benefits were immediate and substantial — both for them as teachers and in helping their students forge career paths.

One colleague recently took a sabbatical to work at a law firm for a year. Drawing on this experience, she created a class focused on the “business” of lawyering — real-world issues that practicing lawyers face, from finances and becoming a “free agent” to emotional health. The class has been a huge hit, receiving rave reviews from students and attorneys alike. Designing this new class was a massive undertaking because it was far from a traditional course; she came up with the concept, the content and all of the material. A new book based on the class will soon be available for professors across the country who want to teach similar classes.

Instead of tacking some clinics taught by adjuncts onto the end of the traditional model, Professor Carodine advocates a holistic change to the legal academy, integrating real world experience into classroom courses as well. The problem with such a wholesale change to the way law schools have operated for over a century is, of course, tenure. But the answer is not to lazily call for eliminating tenure, but to reform it:

Today, when the question of law school reform gets raised, the discussion invariably turns to tenure and whether it should be eliminated. But tenure is so institutionalized that professors won’t give it up without a hell of a fight. Frankly, I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Nor will the requirement that law professors produce legal scholarship to obtain tenure. Which is why most adjunct professors (the ones who practice law and teach classes on the side) will never get tenure and become policy makers — they tend not to produce scholarship, and many don’t want to teach full time anyway.

The solution is to send the policy makers — the tenured professors — into the real world. Doing so would breathe new life into our curricula and enhance our scholarship (even if fewer research leaves translates to less scholarship, what we do produce would be far more relevant and impactful). “Experience sabbaticals” funded by our schools (if necessary) to work in corporations, small businesses, law firms, nonprofits or government agencies should be normalized to give us fresh perspectives on the world that our students will face.

I think Professor Carodine isn’t going far enough on this point. A school willing to scale back on publication requirements to include such an experience sabbatical as part of the tenure process would accomplish the dual goal of increasing exposure to rubber-meets-the-road practice and reducing the role played by writing articles no one reads in deciding who is a good professor. Or maybe “very few people read” — I forgot about the 2Ls making line edits for the law reviews.

This isn’t completely unheard of in education. For example, the U.S. Military Academy has some officers assigned long-term to the school in leadership roles, but the bulk of the officers who serve as professors rotate back out of the school to the “Real Army” so the school never loses the practical edge. And the military is a profession. For that matter, my doctor is a med school professor. When you think about it, law school is really the only professional school that doesn’t put a premium on professors taking time to keep current on the practice of the profession.

So is this about making law school better for Millennials? Maybe. But given that law school’s insular faculty model has little company among professional schools, this may actually be about making law school better for everybody.

Fix Legal Education: Send Law Profs Back to the “Real World”

Earlier: Which Law Schools Have The Best Clinics?
The Myth Of The ‘Practice Ready’ Law Graduate

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