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Dean's Desk: Effective legal education depends on strong partnerships

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dean-buxbaun-hannahIn recent years, the state of legal education in the United States has attracted significant attention from outside the academy. The resulting discussion has touched on a number of issues. Some of them relate to the financing of law education: tuition policies, student debt loads, state support for public universities. Others include the accreditation process and law schools’ reporting of admissions and employment data. The most fundamental question that has been raised, however, is simply whether legal education today is effective — and whether it is sufficiently relevant to students’ future careers as practicing lawyers.

To be effective and relevant, law education must provide students with a bridge to a legal career. Even if law graduates cannot be expected on day one to possess the full complement of lawyerly techniques, they should be expected to arrive with the basic set of skills and professional competencies that successful lawyers require. Just as important, they should know something about the profession that they will be joining, and they should have taken the first steps toward developing their own professional goals and identity.

Building this bridge between law schools and law practice calls for strong and successful partnerships among law schools, practicing lawyers and other professionals. At Indiana University Maurer School of Law, we are committed to the pursuit of these partnerships. I want to highlight two of them.

Partnerships with adjunct faculty

At Indiana Law, our adjunct faculty members help us build the bridge to professional life in at least three ways:

Specialized instruction. Drawing on a wealth of experience in particular fields of practice, adjunct faculty members offer important enrichment courses to upper-class law students. They teach classes such as IP antitrust, state and local tax, Federal Circuit advocacy, and state constitutional law, among many others. These courses allow our students to build on doctrinal and analytical foundations while acquiring deeper knowledge in areas in which they might ultimately practice.

Practice-oriented instruction. The instruction that adjunct faculty members provide is grounded in their deeply contextualized knowledge of the law as it plays out in courtrooms, conference rooms and client interactions. This practice-oriented instruction helps students identify the patterns of law in action and gives them a feel for the modes of analysis and argumentation on which lawyers depend.

Real-time case studies. Many of our adjuncts teach their classes in a real-time setting. They bring to Bloomington matters they are working on that call for high-level problem-solving, with all the consequences and time constraints of an actual practice. This approach gives students a first-hand view of the capacities that successful lawyers require: among them problem-solving, leadership, communication, priority-setting, responsiveness to deadlines, and the ability to weigh the risks and benefits of alternative legal strategies.

Partnerships with alumni and friends

In 2009, the Maurer School of Law redesigned its course on professional responsibility. In addition to the typical study of the “law of lawyering,” the course helps students identify the career that will best suit them, based on the discovery of their personal and professional strengths, attributes and values. Our partnership with members of the practicing bar has been indispensable in making this course a success — part of a true professional development program.

Alumni and friends of the school contribute their time and expertise to the program in the following ways:

• They participate in panel discussions featuring lawyers from many different practice settings, as well as additional events such as networking sessions and resume workshops.

• Through our Career Choices series, a required component of the legal profession course, lawyers come to Bloomington to speak to students about their work, including their substantive area of practice. In addition, Career Choices speakers invite students to individual or small-group informational interviews or discussions during their visit to the school.

• In one required course assignment, students conduct independent research to help them learn about the context in which lawyers work while reflecting on their own potential fit within the profession. To do this, they interview five law school graduates in person, at least two of whom they don’t already know. Based on their interviews, students write a paper covering what they learned about the work undertaken by law graduates and how the lessons from the interview have shaped their own career plans.

In a typical year, nearly 100 lawyers visit the Maurer School of Law to share their experiences and hundreds more help with the interview assignment. Our career development program would simply not be possible without this strong partnership between our school and the bench and bar.

Partnerships with adjunct faculty members and other legal professionals contribute something that enhances our students’ educational experience immeasurably: a contextual, applied orientation to the law that helps students close the gap between what they learn in law school and where they are headed in practice. They play a unique and crucial role in increasing the effectiveness and relevance of law education.•

__________

Hannah L. Buxbaum is Interim Dean and John E. Schiller Chair in Legal Ethics at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law. Opinions expressed are the author’s.

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  1. Where may I find an attorney working Pro Bono? Many issues with divorce, my Disability, distribution of IRA's, property, money's and pressured into agreement by my attorney. Leaving me far less than 5% of all after 15 years of marriage. No money to appeal, disabled living on disability income. Attorney's decision brought forward to judge, no evidence ever to finalize divorce. Just 2 weeks ago. Please help.

  2. For the record no one could answer the equal protection / substantive due process challenge I issued in the first post below. The lawless and accountable only to power bureaucrats never did either. All who interface with the Indiana law examiners or JLAP be warned.

  3. Hi there I really need help with getting my old divorce case back into court - I am still paying support on a 24 year old who has not been in school since age 16 - now living independent. My visitation with my 14 year old has never been modified; however, when convenient for her I can have him... I am paying past balance from over due support, yet earn several thousand dollars less. I would contact my original attorney but he basically molest me multiple times in Indy when I would visit.. Todd Woodmansee - I had just came out and had know idea what to do... I have heard he no longer practices. Please help1

  4. Yes diversity is so very important. With justice Rucker off ... the court is too white. Still too male. No Hispanic justice. No LGBT justice. And there are other checkboxes missing as well. This will not do. I say hold the seat until a physically handicapped Black Lesbian of Hispanic heritage and eastern religious creed with bipolar issues can be located. Perhaps an international search, with a preference for third world candidates, is indicated. A non English speaker would surely increase our diversity quotient!!!

  5. First, I want to thank Justice Rucker for his many years of public service, not just at the appellate court level for over 25 years, but also when he served the people of Lake County as a Deputy Prosecutor, City Attorney for Gary, IN, and in private practice in a smaller, highly diverse community with a history of serious economic challenges, ethnic tensions, and recently publicized but apparently long-standing environmental health risks to some of its poorest residents. Congratulations for having the dedication & courage to practice law in areas many in our state might have considered too dangerous or too poor at different points in time. It was also courageous to step into a prominent and highly visible position of public service & respect in the early 1990's, remaining in a position that left you open to state-wide public scrutiny (without any glitches) for over 25 years. Yes, Hoosiers of all backgrounds can take pride in your many years of public service. But people of color who watched your ascent to the highest levels of state government no doubt felt even more as you transcended some real & perhaps some perceived social, economic, academic and professional barriers. You were living proof that, with hard work, dedication & a spirit of public service, a person who shared their same skin tone or came from the same county they grew up in could achieve great success. At the same time, perhaps unknowingly, you helped fellow members of the judiciary, court staff, litigants and the public better understand that differences that are only skin-deep neither define nor limit a person's character, abilities or prospects in life. You also helped others appreciate that people of different races & backgrounds can live and work together peacefully & productively for the greater good of all. Those are truths that didn't have to be written down in court opinions. Anyone paying attention could see that truth lived out every day you devoted to public service. I believe you have been a "trailblazer" in Indiana's legal community and its judiciary. I also embrace your belief that society's needs can be better served when people in positions of governmental power reflect the many complexions of the population that they serve. Whether through greater understanding across the existing racial spectrum or through the removal of some real and some perceived color-based, hope-crushing barriers to life opportunities & success, movement toward a more reflective representation of the population being governed will lead to greater and uninterrupted respect for laws designed to protect all peoples' rights to life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. Thanks again for a job well-done & for the inevitable positive impact your service has had - and will continue to have - on countless Hoosiers of all backgrounds & colors.

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