The Future(s) of Law School

Written by Andrew Rens on May 10th, 2013

What will happen to law schools? What will happen to Law School (the beau ideal)? What futures do law schools face?

These questions are recieving quite a lot of attention right now. One reason for that attention is the demographic change taking place in US law schools. According to the Law School Admission Council, the number of law school applicants (to US law schools) fell by 14.4% from 2011 to 2012, and by 23% from 2010 (to 2012). This caused the American Bar Association to call for drastic changes to legal education.

But other US law schools have experienced increases in applications, and many are rapidly expanding their LLM programs to accomodate many more forieng students, especially from Asia. The declining number of applicant’s at lower tier US schools shouldn’t distract from the slower but more significant challenges that will affect law schools around the world sooner or later. The only exception that I can think of are schools of cannon law maintained by the Catholic Church. One set of challenges is to the way that lawyers work, and can work due to information technology, globalisation that is tangled up in the opportunities provided by information technology, outsourcing, automation of discovery. Another set of challenges has to do with the business model(s) of legal practises and especially the ways in which those model(s) rely on hourly billing.

In South Africa concerns about the undergraduate LLB degree, the underpreparation of practitioners and the regorganisation of the profession through the Legal Practise Bill are also prompting concern from law schools.

The future or rather the possible futures of law schools is a recurring topic in the press. I don’t aim to report on the topic. Instead I am planning a series of reflective blogposts on aspects of law school that draw on my rather unique set of experiences.

I had the benefit of obtaining a post-graduate LLB from a leading South African law school, and the privelige of teaching at two leading South African law schools. I’ve also been both student and instructor at a T14 school in the United States. But I haven’t only been a scholar, I’ve practised commercial law; litigation and transactional and public interest law; both impact ligitation and clinical. I’ve worked for government in the creation of a new agency, for non-profit organisations and for a change agency (donor organisation).

The eclectic and constant change of my career may horify some readers. Perhaps that (polite) horror is appropriate. But my varied experiences should be useful for this at least; for considering the futures facing law schools around the world, and the futures facing law students or would be law students, since tommorrow’s law students careers are more to resemble my career; transglobal, varied and ecletic than the careers of students of the past.

But this does not mean the end of Law School or indeed of law schools, rather in an increasingly complex world characterised by multiplying overlapping regulatory regimes Law School must change. How and in what ways Law School and the qualifying of lawyers must change will be the subject of future posts.


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