On April 12th and 13th, leaders from legal education and the legal profession from across the country gathered at FIU College of Law for a Summit on the Future of Legal Education and Entry to the Profession. The Summit was organized by FIU Law Professor, Scott Norberg, in collaboration with the FIU Law Review and co-sponsored by The Law School Admission Council (“LSAC”). In a series of eight panels over the two days, the participants discussed how to best align law school admissions, legal education, and bar admission requirements with the practice of law, which is undergoing tremendous changes as a result of advances in technology, globalization, and other economic pressures.
The Summit began with a panel that set the tone for the next two days. Attendees were treated to perspectives from the heads of the six key legal education organizations. The leaders of the American Bar Association (“ABA”) Section of Legal Education, Association of American Law Schools (“AALS”), National Conference of Bar Examiners (“NCBE”), National Association for Law Placement (“NALP”), LSAC, and AccessLex Institute discussed the state of legal education, how it has changed over time, and the impact it will have on the future of the legal profession and legal professionals. Barry Currier, the Managing Director of the ABA Section of Legal Education stated, “I think that when the history of the world is written, America will be remembered for the rule of law, and I think that law schools have played a more central role in the rule of law as it has evolved in this country than maybe we even understand.”
NALP Executive Director James Leipold mentioned that the growing interest in law school after six years of significantly declining applications presents a “perilous moment.” He warned law schools not to give into the temptation of bringing in larger classes because the number of law jobs available does not parallel this growing interest, a topic that the second panel discussed in depth. “As a law student, I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to learn directly from the leaders of legal education about the solutions and changes that are in the works to address the challenges that law schools are facing” said 2L Nathalie De Almagro. “The panel discussions were truly “worlds ahead” and challenged every stakeholder in legal education to do their part, be it big or small, to ensure that law schools do right by their students and community at large.”
The second group of speakers focused their discussions on how legal education can help meet the needs of society and the market itself. Professor Scott Norberg, from Florida International University College of Law, highlighted the growing gap in law school graduates and available jobs in the legal market. According to Professor Norberg, “the number of ABA-accredited law school graduates has exceeded the number of entry-level, full-time, long-term bar pass required jobs by more than 30% in every year since 2001.” Fernando Garcia, General Counsel for Nissan Canada, discussed the opportunities available as in-house counsel and explained that these individuals need a deep understanding of business and that legal education should focus on developing “T-Shaped Lawyers;” lawyers with a strong grasp of the law but with a wide range of practical skills.
The two Thursday afternoon panels focused on the financial concerns facing both law students and law schools. Christopher Chapman, President and CEO of AccessLex Institute, discussed proposed legislation that could cap the amount of federal funding for graduate education, which means that students will have to shoulder a higher post-graduation debt if law education costs remain high. John Pierre, the Chancellor of Southern University Law Center, focused his remarks on methods his law school uses to manage costs and increase revenue opportunities with the main purpose of making law school “affordable and sustainable for students.” By leveraging his law school and the skills of its students, Mr. Pierre described several private-public partnerships his program has achieved, stating that “law schools ought to be taking the lead” in order to reduce costs for students.
The second day of the Summit kicked off with a candid discussion with Hilarie Bass, the President of the ABA. She spoke frankly about her views on the challenges facing the profession as related to legal education and entry to the profession. While engaging with the Summit attendees, President Bass emphasized that “we need to do a better job to ensure that legal education is transformed to prepare graduates to practice law in the current marketplace.” Bass continued to speak about the graduate landscape and how lawyers want to hire law graduates right out of school, but lawyers tend to find that graduates are not practice-ready from day one. “The discussion with President Bass was extremely insightful,” said 2L Annasofia Roig. “She discussed the importance of race and gender diversity in the legal profession and some of the ways in which we can all work to achieve those goals. As a young, female law student, I was glad to learn that the ABA is working on lobbying Congress regarding the placement of women in the legal field.”
As the Summit continued, several esteemed panelists, including Dean Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, discussed the importance of taking an integrated view of the legal profession and licensure. As the legal practice has changed, a dichotomy exists between what students are taught during law school and what lawyers need to know for the performance in the legal profession. Advocating for a more client-centered model for legal education, Dean Stephen Sheppard of St. Mary’s University School of Law suggested that “we have to refocus ourselves on clients, upon assuring justice among the clients and their other stakeholders, not only to look toward elements like the rule of law and constitutional democracy, but the needs of clients and to integrate that thoroughly into the licensure and legal education of all of our lawyers.”
Considering the future of the bar examination and entry to the profession, Judith A. Gunderson, president of NCBE, stated: “there is a cost to changing the bar exam, and there is a cost to making a change, but I would say there is a bigger cost to not thinking about it.” Although the current bar exam has changed over the past ten years, the future of the exam could likely see changes with regards to its content, format, and delivery.
With nearly 200 in-person attendees, and over 350 live-stream views of the event, the Summit was a tremendous success, and it fueled a much-needed conversation that could change the future of legal education and entry into the profession. “The summit was an incredible forum for ideas to be shared, and it allowed legal scholars to dive deeper into topics that may affect the future of legal education,” said 2L Patrick Brady. “Also, the summit provided the opportunity for stakeholders from different areas of legal education to meet and share ideas that will propel legal education forward.”