The news is challenging for law schools, most of whom seem impervious to marketplace changes that are reshaping what it means to be a lawyer and how and for whom they will work. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), a branch of the Department of Education, rebuked the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2016 for its lax law school oversight and poor “student outcomes.” Paul LeBlanc, a NACIQI member, concluded that the ABA was “out of touch with the profession.”
Mark: Law schools have made some strides during the past few years– experiential learning, legal technology, entrepreneurship, legal innovation, and project management courses, are becoming standard fare. A far bigger–and more important step would be for the legal Academy to forge alignment with the marketplace. That would be a “win-win-win” for students, law schools, and legal providers/consumers. Students would be exposed to the “real world” and the skills, opportunities, and direction it is taking. The Academy would acquire context, use-cases, and an understanding of consumer challenges and needs–a strong foundation from which to remodel legal education and training, address the “skills gap,” as well as to improve “student outcomes.” Legal providers/ consumers would benefit from a talent pool better prepared to provide solutions to the warp-speed pace and complex challenges of business.
Joek: ‘I totally agree. For the last 2 years I’m a guest speaker on innovation and change at the Honors College of Law at Leiden Law School and I’ve noticed that they are preparing students to work in a more dynamic marketplace in which change in customers needs, IT developments and structure are more apparent. But I also notice sort of a ‘false urgency’, meaning that a lot of Law Schools talk about the importance of change, but in the end focus on the primacy of traditional educational. In terms of management, strategy, organization etc., and to get rid of this ‘false urgency’, what needs to be done, and do you think that the business of law and legal delivery needs to be an inseparable part of the standard law school curriculum?
What Does It Mean To “Think like A Lawyer” Now?
Law schools have long focused on training students how to “think like a lawyer.” Their curricula were designed to: (1) hone critical thinking; (2) teach doctrinal law using the Socratic method; (3) provide “legal” writing techniques and fluency in the “language of law”; (4) advance oral advocacy and presentation skills; (4) encourage risk-aversion and mistake avoidance; (5) refine issue identification and “what ifs;” and (6) teach legal ethics.
Legal knowledge was long the sole requisite for a legal career; now it is a baseline. “Thinking like a lawyer” today means focusing on client objectives, thinking holistically-not simply “like a lawyer,” understanding business, melding legal knowledge with process/project management skills, and having a working knowledge of how technology and data impact the delivery of legal services. Lawyers no longer function in a lawyer-centric environment–now, they routinely collaborate with other legal professionals, paraprofessionals, and machines. Thinking like a lawyer means understanding the client’s business–not simply its “legal” risks. It also means collaborating with others in the legal supply chain, ensuring that the “right” resources are deployed to drive client value, working efficiently, capturing intellectual capital, using data, and advancing client objectives.
Legal performance is shifting from input–hours and origination– to output– outcomes and results that drive client value. Lawyers must be attuned to the complexity and speed of business. They must render counsel that considers not only legal risk but also other factors such as brand reputation, regulatory, financial, etc. They must provide multidimensional, holistic, timely, and actionable advice. This is what the marketplace construes as “thinking like a lawyer.”
Mark: “Thinking like a client”–at least knowing the client’s objectives, risk tolerance, value assessment, and business has always been critical. The problem is that most lawyers have little direct client contact and, so, neither ask those questions nor see things from a holistic perspective. Law schools have traditionally taught students to “think like a lawyer” and that’s fine so far as it goes. But thinking like a lawyer involves not only legal expertise and competency but also–as your question implies–much more. I agree with you; lawyers must be business savvy, understand how technology impacts legal delivery, how the legal supply chain works, project management, and the basics of data analytics. They must understand client challenges from more than the narrow “legal” perspective, because clients today want answers to complex, multidisciplinary client challenges, not legal briefs.
Most law schools continue to train students for traditional practice careers, even as more “legal” work formerly performed exclusively by law firms has been disaggregated and is now increasingly sourced in-house, to law companies, and to “legal” service providers from other disciplines–notably, the Big Four. “Practice” careers are shrinking, and that means that law students and those in the early and mid-stages of their careers must learn new skills to qualify for the jobs that will replace them.
Deloitte projects that 39% of all legal jobs will be automated within a decade. Many of those positions are currently filled by law firm associates who, through labor-intensity (read: high billable hours) and premium rates sustain the traditional partnership model. That model is changing; law firms are hiring fewer newly-minted lawyers and only a small fraction of BigLaw associates make partner. Legal buyers are balking at paying premium rates for non-differentiated “legal” tasks. For many law grads, “gigs” are replacing full-time jobs, and the average lawyer can expect double-digit job changes during her/his career. “Knowing the law” is now a baseline that must be augmented by new skills that are seldom taught by law schools–data analytics, business basics, project management, risk management, and “people skills” to cite a few.
Law Schools Should Focus on Consumer Needs and The Skills Required to Satisfy Them
Businesses have different cultures, hiring criteria, target markets, and performance metrics–why not law schools? Most academics would respond, “The goal of business is profit–that’s very different than an educational institution.” Perhaps, but in today’s world, profit is derived from customer satisfaction–a positive experience, a satisfying outcome, and value. Most law schools are receiving failing grades when measured by these criteria. They should, as Mary Juetten suggests in a recent article in the ABA Journal, focus on outcomes. For Ms. Juetten, that includes adding metrics, going beyond substantive law, more practical experience (a/k/a experiential learning), doubling down on dispute resolution mechanisms, and finding solutions for the access to justice crisis by aligning tech products to material marketplace needs (use-case). Let’s hope the ABA takes note of her recommendations.
All law schools should provide grads with: a command of doctrinal law “basics” including legal ethics; critical thinking; people and collaboration skills; business, tech, and data analytics basics; marketplace awareness; a learning-for-life mentality; and an understanding that law is a profession and a business. Law schools must also train students to be client/ customer centric. This is far more important than the “lawyer-centric” approach of the past. Students must graduate with a grasp of what legal consumers expect of lawyers; what skills are necessary to satisfy those expectations; and what additional/ongoing training will be necessary to drive client value? A law school diploma is no longer the end of one’s formal education–it is a baseline in a lifelong process. This presents a challenge and opportunity for law schools to be the principal source of that ongoing training.
Law schools must become better aligned with the marketplace. It’s consumers–not lawyers- – that now decide how and when lawyers are deployed. This is a path previously traveled by physicians, accountants, and other professions. Service professions–like businesses– must serve the needs of consumers. Those needs are not static. That’s why law schools cannot remain static and must adapt more fluid curricula to meet the needs of legal consumers, not their own.
Joek: I think a fairly large group of professionals will agree with your recommendation(s). However, isn’t part of the problem that it is easy to say that curricula must be more fluid, and that we can learn from other professions to change the curricula, but because of a lack of insights in what legal education should look like and/or how to migrate to such an educational system is the actual challenge… and if you were asked to change the law school curricula, what would you propose or do, the migrate the current Law School curricula to the ‘new’ updated curricula?
Originally published in LegalBusinessWorld.