Friday, July 10, 2009

The Future of Legal Education

Notice this provocative article from the ABA Journal: "Are Law Schools Like GM? Why Profs Should Mull End of Salad Days" discussing Indiana University Law Professor William Henderson's blog post. Henderson wonders whether law schools have GM's problems: complacency and a sense of invincibility. The problem is that, unlike medical or business schools, law schools don't address the problems of modern practice and, consequently, the legal profession does not look to them as a valuable resource except to produce fresh bodies to inhabit spots on the Associate track. Couple that with students' rising debt loads and a shrinking market and you have a crisis (or a disaster) waiting to happen.

I want to take the GM metaphor a little farther. GM ignored its competition, refused to innovate, and was content with short term profit. While Toyota and Honda were building small, fuel efficient and reliable cars, GM was riding the wave of low oil prices to produce bigger and less fuel efficient and less reliable cars. When short term profits kept rolling in, everything was fine. But when the bottom fell out, GM had no where to go and was too big to move quickly anyway.

Law Schools face an Gm-like environment today: new competitors, changing customer demands (students and employers), and a an antiquated business model. But, as in the past, many of us typically respond to demands for change like GM: we just trot out bigger versions of what we've always done. The future of legal education will belong to those institutions that learn from GM's debacle: adapt or die.

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