The optimistically named “spring” semester has begun at most law schools. One-L’s nervously await their fall-semester grades while climbing a mountain of new reading. Two-L’s focus on their externships, student organizations, and job searches, while mostly ignoring the assigned reading. Three-L’s celebrate with glee the fact that this is their “last first day.” They haven’t even opened their course syllabi, much less the assigned readings.
In a very thoughtful essay, Bob Kuehn reminds us what’s wrong with this picture. Whether the students do the readings or not, they’re not learning enough of the professional skills they will most need as new lawyers. Study after study demonstrates that law schools fail to give students enough education in professional essentials like listening effectively, interviewing, counseling, negotiating, identifying client goals, strategizing to meet those goals, and problem solving.
Law schools prepare their graduates to perform as superb appellate lawyers, but only mediocre (at best) lawyers for every other type of legal problem or client need. Graduates slowly learn how to lawyer for those clients, but they don’t give their early clients and employers the excellence those groups deserve. And, without a sound foundation at the start, these graduates may never become the superb counselors, strategists, and problem solvers they could have been.
Law schools have made progress, but we haven’t traveled nearly far enough–and our progress has been crawl-like. As 2017 unfolds, I hope to offer some ideas for more effective progress. Meanwhile, put Bob’s essay on your personal first-week reading list. And then, do more: read the underlying studies and reflect on what they mean for legal education. Let’s try for a newer new semester this time next year.
Bob Kuehn has written a terrific essay refuting the notion that clinical courses are too expensive for law schools to offer. His online piece includes plenty of hard data; some he gathered and some he drew from other sources.
Kuehn’s essay reminds me of a conversation I had a few years ago with a member of my university’s board of trustees. I alluded to the challenges that public universities like ours face with reduced tax support for higher education. He responded differently than most trustees or administrators, who are happy to bemoan losses of public support. “There’s plenty of money,” he said. “It’s just a question of your priorities in spending it.”
And, of course, he was right. For the current fiscal year, my university predicted revenues of $6.1 billion dollars and expenditures of $5.5 billion. Even if revenues fell to match expenditures, that’s a lot of money to distribute.
Most universities, let alone law schools, are considerably smaller than Ohio State. About half of our budget, furthermore, stems from the medical school and health care center. (This is an interesting fact about many university budgets, that health care research and delivery is matching or exceeding other educational expenses.) Still, my board member’s comment is apt: Law schools operate sizable budgets and they have considerable discretion in allocating that money.
We don’t favor LSAT scholarships over need-based ones because budgets force us to do so; we make that choice to pursue higher rankings. Similarly, we don’t cater to the demands of tenured research faculty, rather than expanding clinical education, because our budgets are limited. We make that choice because it suits us (the tenured faculty) and because we hope, once again, that our choice will propel higher rankings.
Bob provides a welcome antidote to these ingrained choices. Expanding clinical education wouldn’t actually raise tuition; it would simply require faculties to change their priorities. And even those changes would be relatively small. We have to ask ourselves: What is the real root of our resistance to clinical education?
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