Summer Reading: Legal Education’s 9 Big Ideas, Part 1

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Taking Cues from Science and Technology

Last week’s blog post made it seem as if the end of traditional legal education is near.  But, as the saying goes, every ending is a new beginning. Scholars and practitioners are proposing solutions to the crisis in legal education that draw on the successes of science and technology:

  • The Lab: Reinvent Law, founded by two professors at Michigan State University College of the Law, seeks to save the legal industry through improved education and critical thinking. The lab adheres to four pillars of innovation: “law, tech, design, and delivery.” The initiative embraces research and development, online video idea exchange, start-up competitions, and Big Data, with the goals to dream big, anticipate trends, and solve legal problems. Their course offerings bring law students and practitioners up to speed on technology, engineering, and (gasp!) hard math, with interdisciplinary classes such as Virtual Law Practice, Quantitative Methods for Lawyers, and Entrepreneurial Lawyering.
  • The Teaching Hospital:  According to Washington & Lee Law Professor James Moliterno, legal education has become far more esoteric and estranged from praxis than medical education: “a fateful choice [was] made 130 years ago:  medical schools decided that their mission would be to turn out doctors, while law schools decided that their mission would be to turn out law professors.” Rutgers University School of Law-Newark Dean John Farmer, Jr. sees apprenticeship a way to bring law students back to the practice of law. In his proposed model, “Law school graduates would practice for two years or so, under experienced supervision, at reduced hourly rates; repaying their debts could be suspended, as it is for medical residents.” He asserts that more graduates could find full-time employment, and shifts the burden of law school debt to the law firms themselves—eliminating the financial gamble that law school has become. Law firms would save money on salaries and attract more clients, while middle-class Americans (who do not qualify for pro bono aid) could find affordable representation.
  • MOOCs (massive open online courses): Professor William Fisher’s HLS1x: Copyright was the first HLS course to enter the EdX online learning platform. The course was multifaceted: 12 lectures posted online, live-streamed panel discussions with virtual Q&A, and virtual discussion groups about case studies that were moderated by Teaching Fellows (HLS students in the in-person course). The course had satellites in other countries, and admitted 500 students worldwide.  Another MOOC, LawMeets, is a Drexel Law professor’s startup, offering online courses, in-person competition, and virtual problem-solving using video communication with experts from the field. This virtual meetup with the experts seeks to expand the scale of apprenticeship learning. LawMeets, like the case study method, sees value in three sources of education: learning by doing, learning from peers, and learning from experts. To be fair, this wave of learning has gotten some pushback in The Chronicle of Higher Education and The New York Times, in defense of the human component of teaching.

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  • Audiovisual Learning: CALI, or the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction, offers short online lessons, webinars, and e-books on specific legal specialties and skills.  CALI’s Classcaster program gives instructors the tools to develop podcasts, blogs, and other technologies to disseminate their instruction widely. (They’ve developed other cool technologies changing the legal universe, such as programs that will walk clients through unwieldy forms.) Harvard’s own H2O program allows professors to make customizable e-casebooks out of a corpus of open-source material—using a “collage” tool to annotate and excerpt cases, as well as a “playlist” tool to curate cases, articles, and audiovisuals into a cohesive course agenda.  Other institutions, such as the University of Missouri, are opening up the dialogue about legal education by publicly posting symposium notes and videos, and, ahem, educating the public about the conversations taking place.

What other tech services, products, or concepts do you think would translate to legal education? Will we one day live in a world with Tweet-able rulings, statute boards on Pinterest? I wonder what our friends at H2O would say about that…