Student Response to Future of Law School
Joshua Allen (3L)
I had the great pleasure of attending the future of law school conference, or at least most of it. There were two main issues or themes to the conference. First, where is the legal profession going and what skills will lawyers of the future need? Second, how should law schools teach those skills?
The first issue was brought into sharp focus by Richard Susskind O.B.E who (in)famously wrote “The End of Lawyers?” and more recently “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” Mr. Susskind sees a world where legal solutions are no longer hand crafted in “bespoke” solutions for each customer but produced by whom ever can most efficiently, and therefore cost-effectively, provide the solution. As an example he cited Legal Zoom; a service provider that helps people with many routine tasks that they might otherwise see a lawyer for, at much lower cost.
There are similarities to be drawn between the off-shoring movement in software and IT services. Indeed, Mr. Susskind also points to legal providers in India and elsewhere that already provide document review. Given this move to off-shoring I expect there to be significant price pressure at the mid size firm level and almost all large firms will eventually have off-shoring components.
As students I think we should be very afraid of, or at least have a healthy fear for the future as predicted by Susskind. With schools looking to increase enrolment numbers and companies pushing costs down, Canada may find itself with a full-blown American style legal job market crisis. Some predictions might be overblown but I left the conference with the feeling that the legal profession is in a time of transition.
Professor Sankoff had, I think, the best talk on the second issue: how best to teach law students. He outlined the method he used to teach Evidence where he created a short video “capsule” that included most of the substantive content for a particular class. The capsules were mandatory viewing before class. Class time was then used for questions, exercises, or discussions. Professor Sankoff claimed, and I believe him, that this method led to better results on the exams. In his presentation he even had short videos of students commenting on the “capsules.”
It is my opinion that Sankoffs method, or at least the philosophy behind it, will overtake the traditional method. By philosophy I mean the notion that repeatable “lectures” or materials will be made freely available to students for consumption in their own time and as often as they wish; particularly the combination of audio and visual instruction and the emphasis on problems and discussion within doctrinal classes. Hopefully 10 years from now professors who don’t incorporate that philosophy will be looked at the same way as professors who use transparencies instead of slides to show materials.
If individual students have too short a horizon to get meaningfully involved in changing the way law schools teach then maybe that is a role organizations like the LSA can fill. I would propose that the LSA take steps to recognize good teachers. Perhaps an annual award or some other recognition. The LSA, has the time and resources that even a few motivated students don’t. I believe they are our best hope for student-centered change.
The Faculty faces a decision after this conference. Do they embrace changes and push for innovations in teaching? Will the faculty recognize excellent teaching when it comes to what matters; money. Or will it still be publish or perish? Can they strike a balance between the two?
What happens at the Faculty of Law after all of the current students are gone will continue to affect us. For most of us this will be our highest degree and the reputation of the U of A’s Faculty of Law will follow us. I hope that teaching is, if not prioritized then given more weight than it is now. But perhaps even more importantly I hope the faculty recognizes that the nature of the profession is changing and takes steps to embrace change before its too late.