Law schools in the United States and Canada find themselves under unrelenting pressure from all directions. Law students are anxious about their career prospects and unhappy with the cost of a legal education, and are clamouring for more “practical” skills to help them find jobs. The law firms that hire these students as they graduate are also increasingly insistent that these first-year lawyers be able to “hit the ground running.”
But other stakeholders’ voices are rising, too. Bar admission providers, themselves under pressure from the profession, are seeking ways to collaborate with law schools to make new lawyers’ entry to practice smoother. Regulatory authorities are noting all these dynamics and are preparing new standards for what constitutes an acceptable educational foundation for future lawyers.
Not all the pressures are external, however. Law school leaders must also contend with fractious faculties, split between conservative traditionalists and a growing number of innovative professors eager to flip the classroom. And then there are university administrators, boards of regents, and prestigious journals and conferences, all of which are pushing law schools in their own preferred direction.
Faced with these walls of pressure, law school leaders would benefit from a big-picture view of how the legal profession is changing and a strategy for overcoming all these challenges and carving out their own clear path to the future.
I have advised law school deans on strategic planning, addressed law school faculties about the future of law, and taught law school courses myself. I understand the myriad forces exerting pressure on law schools — but I also understand that law schools are fundamentally institutions of higher learning that play a unique role in the process of lawyer formation.
- advisory relationships on monthly retainers, within which I counsel deans and faculty members on both daily tactics and long-term strategy, as well as
- one-time special events such as a strategic planning retreat, a galvanizing presentation about the future, or a white paper setting out options and visions for the road ahead.