Four years ago, Richard Susskind published the first edition of “Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future.” With the rapid changes in the legal profession, tomorrow is now today.
The second edition of “Tomorrow’s Lawyers,” widely considered a must-read for business of law and legal education professionals, focuses more sharply on how law schools are educating students to meet the changes in the profession—brought largely by technology.
During October, ALM is publishing excerpts across several of our brands from Susskind’s second edition to spark thought and conversation about the legal industry’s future among the profession’s leaders. ALM editors and reporters have solicited reactions—positive and negative—to Susskind’s ideas from law firm chairs, top legal educators, general counsel, law students, industry analysists to get their take.
Below is an excerpt on legal education from “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.” Accompanying the excerpt are reactions to Susskind’s ideas from three top educators: Erwin Chemerinsky, dean at University of California, Berkeley School of Law; Gillian Hadfield, professor of law and professor of economics at University of Southern California; and Daniel Rodriguez, dean at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law. Click their names to read their full responses.
From “Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future”
Training Lawyers for What?
Law schools around the world have for some years been criticized for accepting far more law students than will be employable in law firms and other legal businesses. In the US, the point was made very starkly in 2012 by Brian Tamanaha in his book, Failing Law Schools. He pointed to government statistics that suggested there would only be 25,000 new openings for young lawyers each year until 2018 while the law schools were annually producing around 45,000 graduates. While the figures have changed since then, the general trend of overproduction of law graduates continues in the US and is a disorder that can be observed in many other advanced jurisdictions.
For law students who take out enormous loans to undertake their legal studies, it is understandable that they might feel disillusioned. Several years ago, some even tried to raise court actions against law schools for the refund of their tuition fees plus damages, arguing that there was an ongoing fraud in the legal education industry that threatened to leave a generation of law students in dire financial straits. However, students cannot with any credibility advance such arguments today because the issue has been widely ventilated and aspiring lawyers entering law schools know, or at least ought to know, the broad trends.
Nonetheless, I still felt deep sympathy for a law student in a leading US law school who approached me in early 2016, after I had spoken to his class on the future of legal services. He said, ‘I am almost half a million dollars in student debt and you seem to be saying that my law school is not teaching me the right stuff’. That is my concern in this chapter, with the appropriateness of what law schools actually teach. My interest is in whether these educational bodies are adequately preparing law students for tomorrow’s legal marketplace.
In this connection, I am afraid the Legal Education and Training Review in England and Wales, the most thoroughgoing for 30 years, came at a pivotal time but in its report of 2013 largely failed to articulate the education and training needs for the legal industry as it is likely to be. Instead, it provided a very detailed model, in my view, for optimizing the training of yesterday’s lawyers. (I was a minor consultant to the review but did not succeed in convincing the main researchers of the principal messages of this chapter.)
What Are We Training Young Lawyers to Become?
My own critique of law schools so far has not touched on a far more fundamental concern. It is true that many practising lawyers question law graduates’ preparedness for working in law firms. But if graduates are not well equipped for legal practice as currently offered, they are staggeringly ill-prepared for the legal world of the next decade or two, as anticipated in the earlier parts of this book.
It therefore must be asked: what are we training large numbers of young lawyers to become? This is one of the most fundamental questions of the book. Are we schooling aspiring lawyers to become traditional one-to-one, solo, bespoke, face-to-face, consultative advisers who specialize in the black-letter law of individual jurisdictions and who charge by the hour? Or are we preparing the next generation of lawyers to be more flexible, team-based, technologically-sophisticated, commercially astute, hybrid professionals, who are able to transcend legal and professional boundaries, and speak the language of the boardroom? My profound concern is that the emphasis in law schools and professional training is overwhelmingly on the former, with little regard for the latter. Indeed, a more profound concern still is that many legal educators and policymakers do not even know there is a second option. My fear, in short, is that we are training young lawyers to become 20th-century lawyers and not 21st-century lawyers.
To look at this issue in another way, we are focusing, in the training of our lawyers, in the language of Chapter 13, on incubating a new generation of expert trusted advisers and enhanced practitioners but ignoring their likely future careers as legal knowledge engineers, legal technologists, legal process analysts, legal project managers, legal risk managers, and the rest.
It is vital, of course, that we continue to equip young lawyers with the wherewithal to function as first-rate expert trusted advisers and in-house practitioners, but, if curricula do not change, it will be neglectful of students and their clients of the future if we do not widen our training to encompass these other new roles.
In many law schools, the law is taught as it was in the 1970s, by professors who have little insight into or interest in the changing legal marketplace. Too often, scant attention is paid to phenomena such as globalization, commoditization, technology, business management, risk assessment, decomposing, and alternative sourcing. And so, I stress again—if many law graduates in the UK are not well prepared for legal work today, they are wholly ill-equipped for tomorrow.
Should we, therefore, extend the remit of law schools and colleges to include other disciplines such as risk management, project management, and legal knowledge management? Is there a place for the future in the busy law curriculum?
Excerpted with permission from Tomorrow’s Lawyers by Richard Susskind. For more information, click here.