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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. IF the Right to Vote is indeed a Right, then it is a RIGHT. That is the same for ALL eligible and properly registered voters. And this is, being able to cast one's vote - until the minute before the polls close in one's assigned precinct. NOT days before by absentee ballot, and NOT 9 miles from one's house (where it might be a burden to get to in time). I personally wait until the last minute to get in line. Because you never know what happens. THAT is my right, and that is Mr. Valenti's. If it is truly so horrible to let him on school grounds (exactly how many children are harmed by those required to register, on school grounds, on election day - seriously!), then move the polling place to a different location. For ALL voters in that precinct. Problem solved.

  2. "associates are becoming more mercenary. The path to partnership has become longer and more difficult so they are chasing short-term gains like high compensation." GOOD FOR THEM! HELL THERE OUGHT TO BE A UNION!

  3. Let's be honest. A glut of lawyers out there, because law schools have overproduced them. Law schools dont care, and big law loves it. So the firms can afford to underpay them. Typical capitalist situation. Wages have grown slowly for entry level lawyers the past 25 years it seems. Just like the rest of our economy. Might as well become a welder. Oh and the big money is mostly reserved for those who can log huge hours and will cut corners to get things handled. More capitalist joy. So the answer coming from the experts is to "capitalize" more competition from nonlawyers, and robots. ie "expert systems." One even hears talk of "offshoring" some legal work. thus undercutting the workers even more. And they wonder why people have been pulling for Bernie and Trump. Hello fools, it's not just the "working class" it's the overly educated suffering too.

  4. And with a whimpering hissy fit the charade came to an end ... http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2016/07/27/all-charges-dropped-against-all-remaining-officers-in-freddie-gray-case/ WHISTLEBLOWERS are needed more than ever in a time such as this ... when politics trump justice and emotions trump reason. Blue Lives Matter.

  5. "pedigree"? I never knew that in order to become a successful or, for that matter, a talented attorney, one needs to have come from good stock. What should raise eyebrows even more than the starting associates' pay at this firm (and ones like it) is the belief systems they subscribe to re who is and isn't "fit" to practice law with them. Incredible the arrogance that exists throughout the practice of law in this country, especially at firms like this one.

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