In an industry undergoing so much change, it is not surprising that the microscope law firms have found themselves under has resulted in a knock on effect in law schools. Many law school Deans have formed, revived or changed the agenda for their curriculum committees. Some of these committees have progressed beyond talking. Much of the talk and outcomes have centered around infusing existing curricula with skills training and beefing up clinical legal education programs. Broad-based competencies have often acted as the guide or blueprint for the changes in what to teach, where to teach and who should teach. What we have yet to see in the US is the sort of comprehensive and collaborative review of legal education that is taking place in other parts of the world or a governance structure with the authority to implement the changes. By comprehensive I mean the bringing together of all relevant stakeholders in legal education – practicing lawyers, law firm professional development/talent management specialists, CLE providers and regulators, law schools and law students. By authority I mean stakeholders who have the gravitas to insist that outcomes are embraced.
The most recent and closest thing to achieving this has been the Critical Issues Summit -Equipping Our Lawyers: Law School Education, Continuing Legal Education, and Legal Practice in the 21st Century co-sponsored by ALI-ABA and ACLEA (October 2009). There have been subsequent examples and iterations of this sort of collaboration like the events held by The Southern California Innovation Project Building Better Lawyers Conference (May 2010) and Harvard and New York Law Schools Future Ed: New Business Models for U.S. and Global Legal Education (April and October 2010). There is also the current review of the standards for approval of law schools by the ABA through the Standards Review Committee (a committee of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar). While laudable and important, the sort of wholesale change that law schools like law firms are currently confronting needs more, it needs a wholesale discourse, debate and eventually commitment to nation-wide reform. The good news for law schools is that there is no need to reinvent the wheel; they can draw on international experience when customizing their own best practices.
To take one example, Legalweek.com reported today (November 19) that in the UK, the Solicitors Regulation Authority, the Bar Standards Board and the Institute of Legal Executives Professional Standards announced that a “full-scale review of legal education and training” would begin in February 2011.The impetus for the review was noted as being in response to “mounting criticism of the disparity between the number of students entering the profession and the number of available positions – both with law firms and at the Bar”. The objective of the review was reported as “to ensure the ethical standards and levels of competence of those delivering legal services in regulated law firms are sufficient”. Not dissimilar initiatives are currently underway in Australia.
As I reflect on this and also the fact that with an increasing number of large law firm global mergers, multi-law firm alliances, international secondments, ABA approval being sought for law schools located outside the US, and generally the increasing globalization of the legal profession, I wonder if this is not the right time for the profession to think a little further out of the box and hold the first global summit for the reform of legal education. Could this be a job for the International Bar Association or perhaps, given the critical importance of the rule of law, the United Nations?