Swethaa Ballakrishnen

Even people inside the Ivory Tower can tell that legal education needs serious reform.

I just got back from the International Legal Ethics Conference in Banff, Alberta. I feel like I literally just got back, since WestJet made an atrocious decision to detour a direct Calgary to Newark flight — full of people who had already cleared U.S. Customs — to Toronto, where we were trapped on the tarmac for six hours.

In any event, the ILEC conference was full of law professors from just about everywhere. I enjoyed many discussions about how the next generation of lawyers are being trained. I’m happy to report that a lot of the professors I talked to understood that one of the big problems facing American law students is the out-of-control cost of legal education. And I spoke to many American professors who understood that high professorial salaries are partially responsible for the runaway cost of tuition. There were lots of innovative ideas about how to make legal education cheaper for students, and more useful for clients.

Unfortunately, while there are many great ideas out there, the 800-pound gorilla is the restrictive American Bar Association, and it didn’t even have to bother being in the room for everybody to feel its weight. The ABA is perhaps the only organization in the world that doesn’t understand that the American legal education system is horribly flawed.

If the ABA could get a clue, there are a lot of people willing to go into the laboratory and experiment with new ideas. I was at ILEC on a panel about whether or not law should be an undergraduate degree. It wouldn’t be my first choice, but the ABA needs to realize that almost anything is better than the current system.

You don’t have to listen to me, you can listen to the New York Times….

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