Changes in the legal marketplace are causing legal educators to rethink the nature, purpose and substance of legal education. As reported in these pages, Timothy Fisher and Jennifer Gerarda Brown, the recently appointed deans of the University of Connecticut School of Law and Quinnipiac School of Law, are enthusiastically and energetically embracing the opportunity to review old assumptions about what it means to be an attorney and the role legal educators play in preparing their students for the challenges they will face as counselors and advocates in a rapidly changing legal environment.
The forces of change are by now well-documented, if not fully understood. Clients are demanding more value for their dollar. The opportunity for young attorneys to gain experience as young associates is diminishing as clients are increasingly reluctant to underwrite the cost of that apprenticeship. The cost of legal services is often beyond the reach of even middle-class consumers adding to the stress of a judicial system that is, at least in the family law area, struggling to honor its commitment of equal access to justice for all of our citizens. As the economy struggles to recover, young attorneys entering the workforce are confronted with a shrinking job market and increasing personal debt.
Confronted by these systemic challenges and shrinking enrollments, legal educators have been forced to consider whether classical legal education popularized by the legendary Professor Kingsfield terrorizing young law students with an unrelenting Socratic interrogation is any longer relevant to the 21st-century legal marketplace. If the goal of the law school education we knew and experienced was to prepare young students to “think like a lawyer”—whatever that means—the question now confronting legal educators such as Brown and Fisher is, “What does it mean to be a lawyer?”
To their credit, both recognize that young lawyers require not only keen analytical talents, but also practical hands-on skills that will allow them to communicate effectively and advocate persuasively for their clients. It is refreshing, therefore, to note the expanded emphasis in their respective curricula of clinical legal education that emphasize the skills required for effective advocacy and negotiation. In so doing, UConn and Quinnipiac follow the lead of Yale Legal Services, which can proudly boast of a generation of innovative and effective advocacy programs serving the mentally ill, immigrants, veterans and other legally vulnerable groups.
The challenge for legal educators, as it is for the leaders of the bar, is to respond to the many cross currents that are reshaping the legal profession. We are fortunate that Connecticut’s three law schools are led by dynamic and innovative deans who will ably partner with the bar as together they seek collaborative responses to a rapidly changing legal world. •