Elon University School of Law Dean Luke Bierman wrote an article for The New Normal section of the ABA Journal, titled Four steps for reinventing legal education. In his April 15, 2015 article, Dean Bierman argues that the new normal for law schools includes lower enrollment, higher debt and depressed job prospects. He charges that there has been much chatter about changing the law school model without many tangible ideas.
Believing that law schools need to be “creative, bold and prescient” to improve the situation, Dean Bierman proposes four “critical elements of overhaul.”
1. Redesign the curriculum to reflect current and future law practice.
Beyond foundational law courses, students need more and better training in writing, business skills, project management, technology, data analytics, leadership development, and communication. These qualities are coveted by law firms and enable lawyers to blossom from narrow technicians into strategic thinkers, deal makers, problem solvers and community leaders.
2. Focus on real-world learning.
We need to require hands-on learning through partnerships with law firms, judges, nonprofits and government agencies – where students can learn by doing in immersive and iterative programs. We also need students to test themselves in simulations led by practicing attorneys and take part in greater numbers in clinics, trial advocacy, moot court, and mock trial programs.
3. Give students access to a network of judges and attorneys.
Rather than hoping that students will carve out a career path on their own, we should provide them with professional advisers and mentors, including faculty, attorneys, career consultants, and executive coaches who counsel them on course selections, practical experiences and custom pathways to career success. We also should provide workshops and programs that encourage networking and provide exceptional professionalism training for students in areas of ethics and leadership.
4. Overhaul the cost of law school.
[W]ith the average debt of private law school graduates reaching nearly $125,000, the fourth critical element to an overhaul is cost – we must make law school more affordable. . . . One way to do that is to realign the curriculum so that all students can accelerate their studies and graduate in less than the typical three years.
Dean Bierman acknowledges that these changes may seem “aggressive,” but he believes that it is “time for bold action.” We wholeheartedly agree.