Think tank offers new path for law schools

March 15, 2016

A report released Tuesday from a San Francisco think tank has a simple message for law schools – innovate or die.

Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that advocates for technology-based solutions, released a white paper outlining a new vision of legal education. Key components are increasing the number of online courses and expanding educational opportunities so nonlawyers can be equipped to handle legal matters without having to obtain a three-year J.D. degree.

“The time is ripe for legal educators to understand the underlying forces that are impacting law schools and the larger market for legal services and to reimagine these forces not as threats, but as opportunities to renew the promise and energy of the legal sector with a vigor not seen in years,” authors Michele Pistone and Michael Horn wrote. “If existing schools and legal educators do not heed the lessons from disruptive innovations and seize this opportunity, then others will.”

Pistone is a professor at Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law and Horn is a co-founder of the institute.   

The authors contend law schools cannot ignore the growing misalignment between the graduates they produce and the changing needs of the legal industry. To adapt, the schools must revise their curriculum to offer more courses online and create more hands-on learning experiences for the students. In addition, as bar associations and regulatory agencies expand licensure options for nonlawyers to do limited legal work, law schools should provide programs to train the students who are interested in obtaining a limited license rather than a law degree.

Law schools should embrace technology by formulating online classes into modular units that teach basic laws, processes and procedures, the authors assert. Students would then be able to work through these modules at their own pace, moving onto the next lesson when they have mastered the previous lesson.

Coupled with this, schools should develop in-class sessions to reinforce the online learning through experiential activities. Students could apply what they have learned either through role-playing or small group work. Clinics would then tie the online and in-class programs together by having the students work with clients on real legal issues.

 Finally, the authors said, law schools should create programs that would allow J.D. students to focus deeply on a particular area of the law. Rather than providing everything to all law students, the schools should adjust to the changes in the legal industry which are demanding entry-level associates to have more knowledge in certain practice areas like tax law, family law or criminal law.

The authors maintain law schools can survive. However, they must realize competitors from outside the legal profession will enter the market and start to provide legal education.

“After recognizing the threat, to survive and thrive, law schools must then reframe this moment as an opportunity to stop chasing prestige for its own sake and start creating disruptive educational models themselves.”

The full paper can be viewed on the Clayton Christensen Institute’s website


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