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April 17, 2014

Colo innovation conference: Change Management

by Dan Rodriguez

Panelists are:

Nora Demleitner, Dean at Washington & Lee; Melissa Hart, Prof. at Colorado, William Henderson, Prof. at Indiana-Bloomington; Michael Moffitt, Dean at Oregon.  Moderator is Scott Peppet, Prof. at Colorado.

“What is going to be the rate & pace of innovation?
William Henderson [WH]:  experiment is taking place principally in the classroom.  By 2014, we are pretty good at it. Students, e.g., at IU, have teamwork and other key elements now hard-wired into the first year curriculum.  Now students would fight to keep it.  Trouble with experimentation is usually students.  They are the key resisters.  Need to persist by collecting data, presenting best arguments for change, undertaking experiments.

Melissa Hart [MH]:  Need institutional support.  Not easy.  Students evals can get in the way.  “Painful on a semester to semester basis.”  How does individual instructor evaluate when it does or doesn’t work?  Structures push back against experimentation.

MH:  costs of experimentation are very high.  Novel experimentation takes place at fancy private schools (thinking, especially, of K-12).

Nora Demleitner [ND]:  This generation and next generation of students will force us to do things differently.  Often driven by what their friends are doing at other schools or other sections at the same school.  Important to have a core group of faculty who buy in.  Students like being part of the process; they like being asked what works and what doesn’t.  Much more of a partnership.

ND:  on innovation in law schools, key problem is with the discipline of lawyering, especially risk aversion among lawyers and law firms.

Michael Moffitt [MM]:  One problem is the academic cycle (of the semester and students’ progression).  Not many opportunities to iterate if you want is wild experimentation.  Law schools may be punished in rankings.  Moreover, we are in an era in which innovation is essential, but the present time is difficult given the downtown in law apps.  What we’ll find is this:  “Well, we have changed the way we teach first-year property, but law students still don’t come here.”  In other words, what will law schools see as the principal payoff for innovation (at least in the short and intermediate-term).

“What are some of the positive things you have seen around your or another law school?”

ND: Description of Washington & Lee third-year curriculum.  Deep immersion in legal practice.  (Interesting, as ND notes, that law firm training has been changing in meaningful ways.  Key that skills-training curriculum keeps up).

MM: Recognition that there was a declining demand for our principal product — the JD — and so we have moved some of our teaching capacity to the undergraduate and graduate level.  This focus mirrors “Tetris-like” the shifting demand among JD students.  The graphs (declining law school apps) stop debate in faculty meetings about whether there should be significant change.

MM:  Undergrads want this stuff.  Learning law from law profs is “unbelievably sexy to undergrad students.”  At the undergrad level, it is a marriage of capacity (law school) and demand (undergrads).

“What are the real barriers to developing a new model?”

WH:  faculty meetings.  Idea that you have to have consensus.  Why not:  “I have an idea.  In my small sandbox, no one gets hurt.”  How about take a small group of the willing?  Doubt is the biggest barrier, simply not starting.  Make the contributions small.  Little wins.

MH:  Way that the reward system for legal academics is structured.  Where traditional model is 40-40-20 (teaching, research, & service).  Suppose law school said, for awhile, it should be 80-20, the idea being “take on an experiment.”  ND:  But this would be unrealistic for untenured faculty member.  Would be a career killer.

WH:  It is critical that the market responds well to these innovations.  This isn’t an aesthetic enterprise where the professors are impressed by what we are doing.  It needs to catch fire in the employment context.  (DBR:  Hard question for Wash & Lee is why employers haven’t taken to the experiment, that is, they haven’t seen meaningful upticks in bar-required employment.  Doesn’t mean that the matter is settled. Could be a time lag.  But it is a real question of why it is that Biglaw has not affirmed the value of W & L unquestionably novel curricular experiments).

“Is tenure a barrier to change?”

MH:  yes, as it is currently structured.  Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have it.  Rather, the question is how we best think about our jobs and our responsibilities.  Why should we think law prof job is like history prof job?

Do what extent do deans incentivize faculty members to engage in entrepreneurial activity?

DBR:  The main matter is what the market values.  In the case of faculty members, this value comes from the elite legal academy and also, to a lesser degree, opinion leaders in legal practice.  When the external marketplace values innovative teaching and (especially) research, faculty members will respond to these incentives and will devote greater effort and energies to these endeavors.

Why don’t a few law schools brand themselves as real innovators?

WH:  It’s going to happen.  New models are emerging.

Are students responding?


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