Singapore chief justice urges legal educators to teach to changes in practice of law

Addressing a crowd of Indiana’s legal and judicial leaders at an Indiana law school on Tuesday, the chief justice of Singapore urged Indiana’s legal educators to keep the future in mind when training today’s law students to become tomorrow’s lawyers.

Chief Justice Sundaresh Menon spoke to an audience at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law during the school’s James P. White lecture Tuesday evening.

Appointed as Chief Justice to the Singapore Supreme Court in 2012, Menon is a Harvard Law School graduate and a graduate of the National University of Singapore. He is an admitted advocate and solicitor in Singapore and serves as an attorney and counselor-at-law in the state of New York.

The McKinney guest speaker faced a crowd of eager ears, including a front row full of past and present Indiana Supreme Court members. Among them were Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush, Justices Geoffrey Slaughter and Christopher Goff and former Justice Frank Sullivan and former Chief Justice Randall Shepard.

Menon focused his discussion on three overlapping forces that he believes creates a “perfect storm that will irreparably effect and alter the practice of law.” Globalization, technology and market influences, he said, have spurred the need to reimagine the way law is taught and are causing unprecedented strains on the legal profession.

Whether that be the constantly advancing technology of artificial intelligence, the delivery of legal services or cross-border activity, Menon said it is time to start charting new beginnings and looking into legal education reform for the future.

“The profound changes in legal practice have made it imperative that law schools acknowledge a responsibility to extend beyond preparing our students to be legal thinkers, to equip them with the skills to become consummate professionals and valuable citizens,” Menon said. “I suggest to you that the system of education that seats only to root its students in the cause of the law without imparting a vital understanding of the rich context in which it operates, the realities of its application and the essential nature of its calling would be incomplete.”

Concerned that legal education is at a crossroads, Menon posed the question of whether law professors are really preparing their students for the demands of legal modern practice. He noted that legal education has sometimes been criticized for being “untethered to the realities of legal practice” and that the practical application of the law during a student’s schooling is essential.

“I believe that the American experience of legal education validates the view that legal education must be responsive to the realities of legal practice,” Menon said. “American law schools have over time come to accept that students must be taught not only how to think like a lawyer, but to act as one.”

Menon concluded his lecture with a call for courage, urging his audience to break out of the comfort zone of familiarity and look at the prospects of revising the way law is taught.

“If we do not attend to this, our students will graduate with neither the skills required for modern legal practice nor the solid grounding in the values that will serve as the foundation for a life of meaningful engagement with the law,” he said. “And this would be a detriment not only to our students, but also to the societies that they, and we, serve.”

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