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President Obama weighs in on law schools

Wall Street Journal on Obama’s recommendation that law school be just two years.

As the WSJ reports, I register disagreement with this recommendation, but now welcome the President into this debate.  Moreover, I continue to believe that the option being discussed actively in New York, which would give students the opportunity to sit for the bar after two years, is a sensible one.

While acknowledging the President’s contributions, the debate requires a nuanced, serious engagement with questions concerning what students can, do, and ought to get out of the third year of law school.  There are real opportunities for innovation and creative, practical programs and curricula in the third year of law school.  Many law schools are deeply engaged in this enterprise; and there are some good ideas emerging.  Before we get onto this bandwagon of “two is enough,” we need to think carefully, and with the benefit of hard data, about what we really expect out of newly-minted lawyers.  Is the problem that new lawyers are over-educated?  Yes, debt looms large — very large — in this debate.  And law schools must find ways of dealing with this predicament.  But how should we best configure the relatively short time available for serious training, in an ever-complex world?  That is the heart of the question.  And simply insisting that law school is one year too long is, with due respect to President Obama, a quick and dirty response to what is a complicated subject.

But props to the President for amping up this debate.  Let’s seriously debate this question.


ABA tenure debate: why nuance matters

Even the august Washington Post gets the issue wrong — well, maybe not wrong exactly, but not-quite-right.

The issue embedded in the proposed standards changes is not the coming end of tenure in U.S. law schools.  The ABA has no authority to compel law schools to abandon tenure.  In the absence of an accreditation requirement of tenure, job security of faculty — nature and scope — is a matter of university discretion.  Moreover, other accrediting bodies, for example, the regional accreditation authorities which regulate the entire college or university of which the law schools are a part, might continue to require tenure.  So might the American Association of University Professors.  So might the Association of American Law Schools.  Etc.

Whether and to what extent that the proposed changes by the ABA Section on Legal Education will impact law school decisionmaking is a fascinating question.  The future is very much unknown.  Two different perspectives are described in the article, one from the dean at George Mason; the other at Georgetown. Different law schools, differentially situated for sure, will have competing approaches to this matter.

It is important that the media and other opinion leaders get the nuance about all this.  The ebb and flow of tenure, as with other key elements of the current academic model, is a product of myriad factors.  Accreditation is just one factor of many.

UPDATE:  A more nuanced review of the ABA proposed reforms in today’s National Law Journal.


Argument and education

Intriguing article on the advantages of argument as a modality (and technology?) of education.

Although this does not pertain to law school in particular, I was struck by the parallels between how we construct legal advocacy courses (first year legal writing and moot court, in particular).  But the general, and more provocative point in the author’s analysis is how so-called traditional, text-based courses can be improved by embedding argumentative materials.  The ability to deftly develop a case for or against a point of view and to connect empirical and theoretical analysis to a claim on behalf of a client (whether in litigation, transactional, or public policy setting) is a central skill of good lawyering.  And it can only help in lawyer training to have students who have experienced this educational approach earlier in their academic careers.

One coda:  This strategy can only be connected to the innovation of the so-called flipped classroom, that is, the assigning of core class materials to reading outside of class (perhaps in an online format), so as to use precious class time for teamwork and case study.  With foundational study under the students’ belts, think about how the class setting can be a rich environment for argument and advocacy — for shaping the ability to make cogent, persuasive arguments.

Part of the future of legal education?


Smart kids, gridiron glory

That’s the way we roll at Northwestern.

Great SI story on the “revenge of the nerds.”  This says great things about our program (as well as the programs at some other elite academic institutions) and also about the commitment of coaches, athletic directors, and university leaders to the ideal, often scoffed at to be sure, of the “student athlete.”

Something to be proud of at NU; something to which other colleges and universities should aspire.

Go Cats.


Berkeley’s Dean Edley

Yes, this blog is focused, unapologetically, on Northwestern Law School.  But I want to look beyond Streeterville for a moment to say a couple words about Dean Chris Edley of UC Berkeley’s Law School.  Yesterday’s notice from the university notes that Dean Edley is stepping down suddenly in order to deal with serious health problems, the nature of which are described in an especially eloquent quotation from Chris in the article.

Chris Edley, who I had the pleasure to study administrative law with as a second-year student at Harvard Law School more years ago than I will admit, served nine remarkable years as Berkeley’s law dean.  In a period of real challenge for that great public law school — with declining state support, a creaky physical plant, some key faculty loses, and, later, myriad problems stemming from the tough job market in California and nationally — Edley provided steady, creative leadership.  By any measure, the law school prospered.  By making Berkeley Law better, he kept his peers on their toes.  While I left Berkeley Law School a few years before Edley arrived from Harvard, I have watched with interest as a faculty alumnus how the law school has progressed and how the dean’s passionate advocacy for high professional and academic values and shrewd strategic judgment helped maintain and enhance excellence in a period in which Berkeley’s status as one the nation’s premier law schools could not be taken for granted.

As Dean Edley steps down after this great run to pursue other meaningful professional goals, I join with my other dean colleagues to wish him Godspeed and congratulations on a job exceptionally well done.



From the always-interesting Prof. John McGinnis


a podcast on his terrific recent book “Accelerating Democracy.”


(south)westward ho!

On a short adventure to Houston (and then to Denver).

Perhaps not natural to think of Chicagoland and Houston in the same breath, for all sorts of reasons I will leave to readers’ imagination.  But those in the know are bullish (!) about Houston legal market and business community.  This is a vibrant, economically prosperous region of the country, with significant progress in the legal market.  Of course, much of this stems from the energy of the energy biz.

Houston transplants, and also natives, speak glowingly of the strong opportunities for lawyers in excellent law firms on the one hand and the advantages of a major metropolitan area (with the cultural amenities befitting such a city).

When our superb Northwestern law graduates think of pursuing professional opportunities outside the Midwest and the two coasts, they should think about Texas.



NU law prof on “God in America”

In today’s Los Angeles Times.


Don’t look now, but Chicago’s late summer weather is awesome

Take a look, friends joining us at Northwestern (and other Chicagoland institutions) in the coming weeks.


Something worth pointing out, given the bumper sticker view of Chicago as windy, chilly city.  Sunny, pleasant summer, sublime fall . . . that’s a bunch of months before hunkering down for the white winter.

The tradeoff is worth it.  And this coming from a native Californian . . .



3 + 3: Not a fan

The latest trend.

The motivation is not a mystery.

But here’s the real objection, from my perspective:  Law school benefits from a more mature student, one with not only a rich, comprehensive undergraduate experience, but with some time off between college and law school.  Nearly all Northwestern law students (90% in last year’s class; 95% the year before) have had one or more “gap” years between undergrad and law school.  Firms nearly uniformly regard this as valuable.  We notice it in the classroom; they notice it in the hothouse of law practice.  We this is a critical part of what we call, with hubris to be sure, the Northwestern “difference.”

Other law schools are moving in this direction, some in significant measure.  Why strategies that move in the opposite direction?  Competitiveness in the rat race of law schools has its consequences; and none of us are immune to this.  But let’s take a deep breath and think carefully about whether we are serving our law students and the law firms well by shaving the years between high school and law school.

I get the handwriting on the wall, but I still say:  Not a fan.