Educating Lawyers for What’s Next

by Francis J. Mootz III

 

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Francis J. Mootz III is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law. He may be contacted at deanmootz@pacific.edu.

It is now commonplace to acknowledge that there is an ongoing structural transformation in legal practice. There are three principal sources of this disruptive change. First, the modern administrative state has given rise to a complex governing structure that has eclipsed the common law courts. Second, technological advances permit automation of many tasks formerly performed by lawyers. Third, there is an increasing need for interdisciplinary approaches to problems, in which lawyers and other professionals work together to achieve their clients’ complex objectives. Recently, the media has focused on the economic challenges facing lawyers and the corresponding sharp reduction in applications to law school. It would be foolish to ignore reality, but I am convinced that lawyers will continue to be bulwarks of society. There is no more astute observer of these changes than Richard Susskind, who in Tomorrow’s Lawyers (2012) made clear that there is a need for lawyers educated to thrive in the new normal:

 

“The legal market is in an unprecedented state of flux. Over the next two decades, the way in which lawyers work will change radically. Entirely new ways of delivering legal services will emerge, new providers will enter the market, and the workings of our courts will be transformed. Unless they adapt, many traditional legal business will fail. On the other hand, a whole set of fresh opportunities will present themselves to entrepreneurial and creative young lawyers.”

 

It is not a given that all law schools will respond to these changes, because legal education is incredibly conservative. Harvard Law did not admit women until 65 years ago, even though well before that time women could be licensed as attorneys in every state. I am proud that McGeorge is directly confronting this disruption in the legal market by ensuring that our students are prepared for contemporary legal practice. Our location in California’s capital provides the perfect setting to prepare our graduates to adapt to these fundamental challenges and to thrive anywhere in the world. At McGeorge we have made innovative changes to ensure that our graduates will be among the creative entrepreneurs who continue the proud tradition of the legal profession.

The slow and steady days of the common law system have been replaced by a complex bureaucracy driven by legislation and implemented through extensive regulations. It is not reasonable for students to complete their first year of studies without a solid understanding of how the administrative state operates, since it forms the basis of most of the elective courses that they will take. At McGeorge we require all students to take a course in Statutes and Regulations that provides this grounding. Our Capital Center for Law and Policy provides students with the opportunity to participate in programs and externships that deepen their knowledge. The students working in our nationally acclaimed legislative clinic do not just study the laws on the books; they put laws on the books. Our students must be prepared for the legal world that exists now, not the world that existed when Dean Langdell at Harvard created the casebook approach to pedagogy. 

The effect of technology on legal practice is only beginning to be felt. As one who remembers using print books to “Shepardize” cases manually, the changes over the past 30 years have been significant, but they are increasing. Lawyers traditionally offered customized personal services to clients, but that has rapidly changed with the increased use of standardized approaches and ultimately to the use of computers to commoditize many aspects of what lawyers used to do. For example, the use of predictive coding computer programs to search through millions of documents produced in discovery is on the rise and arguably performs the task as well and at a fraction of the time and expense of the army of lawyers it once took to complete the same work. Moreover, the growth of companies such as RocketLawyer.com evidences the ability of packaged products to serve individual clients’ needs. RocketLawyer is just one of many sophisticated ventures that follow a new model. Its CEO was formerly with LinkedIn, and it is backed by $43 million in venture capital. Recently, Sacramento based QuickLegal was a finalist in an entrepreneurship competition for its development of a phone app that connects clients and lawyers. At the corporate level the story is the same. The emergence of firms such as UnitedLex, with offices around the world, are providing multi-professional services that include legal, business, and digital contracting services guided by sophisticated project management to ensure that their business clients receive superior service at reasonable cost.

In this dynamic environment, lawyers must build their professional career carefully and strategically. We require every McGeorge student to take The Legal Profession in their first year, enabling them to begin this process. In this course, students are introduced to the business of law, social media for lawyers, principles of working collaboratively, and how to find and cultivate a career using their law degree about which they are passionate. A critical part of legal education and finding a career calling is experiential opportunities to do what lawyers do, rather than just learn about lawyering in a book. In a fast-changing world, students must have the opportunity to exercise judgment and to begin developing wisdom through action. Every student must complete a legal clinic or externship, and also must take simulation courses. When a student learns by doing, the lesson is more subtle and more adaptable to new circumstances. Our focus on building career capacity culminates in the career development assistance provided as students transition to careers with private law firms, industry, government and nonprofits.  

Finally, the idea of lawyers as specialized experts working in a silo has long been overcome by the complexities of modern life. Lawyers work closely with policymakers to create the legal structure. Increasingly, business firms utilize in-house counsel as part of interdisciplinary teams pursing multi-faceted objectives. Law students must learn how to work on such teams. McGeorge is the only law school in the country that offers Master of Public Policy and Master of Public Administration degrees as part of an integrated approach to law and policy. Diversity is also provided by foreign lawyers pursuing their LL.M. degree and working professionals pursuing a Master of Science of Law degree when their career or career plans do not require bar admission. We are creating a professional school that mirrors the interdisciplinary world in which our graduates will practice. Sophisticated clients seek lawyers who understand policy formation and implementation through the regulatory state.

McGeorge is not alone in rising to meet the challenges posed by the disruptive changes in the legal market. Together, America’s law schools must ensure that tomorrow’s lawyers are prepared for the world they are entering. By committing ourselves to educating lawyers for what’s next, McGeorge continues its 93-year legacy of innovation and excellence.

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