Future Ed: New Business Models for U.S. and Global Legal Education
Presented with the Institute for Information Law and Policy.
There’s a lot of talk about the need to reform U.S. legal education. In the past year, there have been half a dozen conferences aimed at improving various aspects of the traditional law school curriculum, as well as promoting new models and methods for doctrinal, experiential and post-graduate legal training. Much of the effort is aimed at responding to—or preempting—American Bar Association efforts to rethink fundamental aspects of law school regulation, including outcome assessment, tenure, and law faculty governance. Others are attempting to look beyond the US regulatory model to respond to—or promote—innovation in emerging markets for U.S. lawyers and U.S.-style legal training.
But while talk is essential—especially shared conversation between educators, regulators, clients and others with a stake in lawyer training—the real question is: what are law schools doing? And how can the best innovations within schools be assessed, refined, and shared within the increasingly competitive market for legal education?
Future Ed was an attempt to respond to that question. Co-sponsored by New York Law School and Harvard Law School, the goal of Future Ed was to produce concrete, feasible, and innovative projects—and to implement at least one aspect of each project within a calendar year.
Future Ed began with a kickoff meeting at NYLS in April 2010, in which participants identified various challenges facing US and global legal education and surveyed the field of existing innovations and ideas for reform. Participants then formed working groups to develop proposals for Future Ed 2, held at Harvard in October 2010. This approach—a kind of decentralized think tank—resulted in thirty concrete proposals on a wide range of topics, including:
The most promising proposals were presented at Future Ed 3 at NYLS in April 2011, with over 100 deans and law faculty from the US and abroad attending. The first day of the conference was modeled as an entrepreneurial “Angel Fair,” with 13 proposals for innovation competing for audience endorsement. Each conference registrant was given $1 million each in virtual currency—so called “attention dollars”—to allocate to the most promising proposals based on feasibility, likely impact, and cost. Proposals included ideas and designs for better integrating legal skills into the law school curriculum; for closer involvement between educators, practitioners and clients; for new uses of synchronous and asynchronous online teaching methodologies (and means for assessment); and for technological collaboration between schools.
The second day opened with a keynote speech by then-Dean Richard Matasar, who emphasized students’ continuing attraction to the U.S. J.D. degree, despite the soaring costs of legal education, and urged participants to become evangelists about the need for law school diversification and cooperation with other institutions to accelerate the attainment of the J.D. and drive down costs for students. Dean Matasar’s keynote was followed by panels about how to leverage technology and the full-time faculty role to drive down the costs of law school, building on lessons from engineering and undergraduate education. Speakers included Burck Smith, CEO of Straighterline, a provider of low cost online college courses; David Thomson, Director of the Lawyering Process Program at Denver University Sturm College of Law and author of Law School 2.0 , and Richard Miller, President of Olin College of Engineering, founded in 1999 to “redefine engineering as a profession of innovation.”
The luncheon keynote was delivered by James Shelton, Assistant Deputy Secretary for Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. Shelton’s speech, entitled “Everything Will Change—Even Law School,” emphasized the exponential increase in the availability of free educational content on the Internet, as well as the declining costs of handheld devices for accessing that content. The implication, he argued, is that educational programs based on selling content were rapidly going to become extinct. Yet while he noted that there is no dearth of good ideas for improving education, the key challenge is to ensure that good ideas “make it down the hall” within each institution and educational context.
The conference concluded with an announcement of the winning proposals and a series of initiatives by New York Law School. The winning proposal was “Apps for Justice: Learning Law by Creating Software,” presented by Ron Staudt of Chicago-Kent College of Law and Marc Lauritsen of Capstone Practice Systems. The proposal calls for the creation of “courses that engage students in creating … software applications that do useful work,” such as “tools practitioners can use to work smarter,” applications that empower self-helpers to address their own legal problems, and various kinds of other “modules, games and decision support systems.” The proposal is “self-consciously focused on institutionalizing an organic engine for growth of new resources to support education in new skills that are now critical for lawyer competency while, at the same time, supporting legal services to the poor.”
The runner-up, presented by David Johnson and Tanina Rostain of New York Law School, was a proposal for “Seriously Gamifying Legal Learning,” that calls for the creation of a network of law schools, law professors, practitioners, law students and others to collaborate to develop and distribute interactive, online games and simulations designed to enable legal learning. Arguing that games offer a number of educational advantages (such as intermittent reinforcement, a gradual learning curve, and making failure enjoyable) the proposal explains how legal card games, micro-simulations, and other templates for interactive learning can be made attractive to students and used to enrich—and in some cases replace—classroom drills.
Honorable mentions went to a proposal for assessing distance learning methods, presented by Rebecca Purdom (Vermont Law School) and Larry Farmer (Brigham Young University Law School); a proposal for legal practice simulation based on a combination of standardized clients and practice simulation software, presented by Karen Barton (University of Strathclyde Law School), John Garvey (University of New Hampshire School of Law), and Paul Maharg (Northumbria Law School); and a proposal for a fully-experiential third year of law school, presented by James Moliterno (Washington & Lee University School of Law).
For more information, click here to visit the Future Ed Web site.