WG Hart, day 2, session 1

by Paul Maharg on 24/06/2014

And here we are for day 2 of the Workshop, with Rick Abel’s plenary on legal education.  No slides, just words, all of them the right ones, and in the right order too, witty and to the point — ‘You never want a serious crisis to go to waste’: reflections on the reform of legal education in the US, UK and Australia.  What is the current crisis, he asked?  Steepening law school fees, falling employment?  Disequilibrium between supply and demand?  He noted the situation in UK and AU wasn’t as crisis-ridden.  He set out to analyse the alleged crisis in four areas: resentment of lawyers, cost of legal education, student debt, law school rankings.  He noted dramatic growth across countries and variation — eg Japan and Israel.  So too many lawyers now, or too few yesterday?  Too many in some countries but not in others?  Costs too are varied across jurisdictions, eg AU HEQS system & English tripling of fees.  Why is legal education so expensive in US?  In part, it’s the effect of rankings, but the system is complex, the causes complex too.  Re the debt, educational fee debt outstrips credit card debt in the US (did I get that right?  incredible).  Indebtedness is much lower in England (NOT UK, NB — the devolved countries are different, see especially Scotland…) and AU.

Rankings are part of the cause, and Rick investigated the algorithm of the rankings table, showing how poor the ranking standards were.  Reputation (40% of ranking) seems almost arbitrary, certainly a risible measure.  He noted the proliferation of rankings by other criteria.  Massification forced consumers to simplify — peer-judgment, eg Amazon, Trip Adviser.  All these can be gamed, he observed.  And can we complain?  We evaluate students, students evaluate us.

Responses he noted, analysing the advantages & disadvantages:

  1. Replace full-time with adjunct faculty
  2. Regulate or discourage faculty research
  3. Prune faculty with golden handshakes
  4. Improve the information available to students so that the market can function more effectively
  5. Shorten the education cycle, eg one year from undergraduate, one from JD.  Which begs the questin
  6. Freeze enrolment in special subjects
  7. Award only needs-based scholarship (but decline in rankings will follow)
  8. Variation in the Bar (did I get that right?)
  9. Waive professional exams for law graduates
  10. Devote more resources for graduate employment (is this a zero sum game, he asked? — what about incubators, as per CUNY?)
  11. Cut enrolments
  12. Curriculum design:
  • offer more courses online
  • joint degree programmes
  • specialization
  • push for more experiential learning
  • more clinic — but shd pro bono services be entrusted to law students?

The 2008 crisis jolted everyone; but there were already ongoing problems, eg access to justice, unmet legal need, legal aid, etc.  One striking feature of the responses was to give control over to others, eg government (in Canada, AU), or to ask how much shd legal education cost?  We stratify higher education — but education for whom, by whom and when, as Harry Arthurs said yesterday.

So much in this talk, and I’m hanging onto the coat-tails of it in writing this.  Magisterial.

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