Welcome back to Ahead of the Curve. I’m Karen Sloan, legal education editor at Law.com, and I’ll be your host for this weekly look at innovation and notable developments in legal education. 

Today I’m talking to Cat Moon, a professor at Vanderbilt Law School, about how legal education can break out of its silo. I’ve also got a rundown on a new report from AccessLex Institute detailing which undergraduate campuses produce the most law applicants per capita. Lastly, I’m catching up with a controversy at the University of Virginia School of Law involving a high-profile white supremacist and access to the law library. 

Please share your thoughts and feedback with me at ksloan@alm.com or on Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.

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Breaking Down the Silos

Talk to Cat Moon for any amount of time about the legal profession, and one word comes up a lot: silos.

Moon, a practicing attorney and Director of Innovation Design for the Program in Law and Innovation at Vanderbilt Law School, helped organize the Summit on Law and Innovation, which took place today at the Tennessee law school. The daylong summit brought together about 100 people from law schools, law firms, and the legal technology sphere to talk about ways to collaborate and advance the legal practice. It was centered around short Ted-style talks with a focus on fostering collaborations across different corners of the legal profession. You can read more about the summit here.

I called up Moon last week before the summit to get her thoughts on the role law schools should play in the future of law, and how they are currently doing on that front. On the latter question, Moon said there’s plenty of room for improvement.

“Starting to teach at Vanderbilt, it became incredibly apparent that there is a really fundamental disconnect between what’s happening in the practice of law, and how legal education is being delivered. I’m certainly neither the first person to identify this nor the most qualified to talk about the problem and the enormity of it’s scope. So much of it is really not intentional. So much of it is that we are a very tradition-bound profession, higher education is very tradition bound, legal education is very tradition bound. People just work away their silos. They’re not seeking to limit themselves, that’s way it has always been done.”

There’s that word again. So how do law schools break out of their silos to better engage with legal players outside the academy? It starts with talking to law firms, legal technologists, and people outside the legal profession to learn what issues they are facing and how they are solving those problems, hence the summit.

A big part of the problem, as Moon sees it, is that legal players face many of the same problems and are attempting to tackle those issues independently instead of collaboratively. Law students would benefit from greater collaboration as well, said Moon, who last year started teaching legal project management and has since created a legal problem solving course in which students are tasked with finding creative ways to address legal service delivery problems.

“Students are starving for tools that will help them succeed in the practice of law—they’re really hungry for these tools and information,” Moon said.

My take: I think the legal academy in general has tried recently to foster deeper ties with the profession than it has in the past, possibly out of necessity. With fewer traditional law jobs available to law grads, some schools are trying to figure out how to position their students for legal tech jobs or other non-traditional roles. But those efforts are still in their infancy, and I think Moon is spot on that the academy needs to get more involved in the discussion about how law will be practiced in 2028 and beyond. If they don’t, their graduates will be left in the dust.


From Whence Law Applicants Come<

new report from AccessLex Institute looking at which universities produce the most law school applicants offers plenty of bad news for legal educators. But there was one piece of good news in terms of the academy’s longstanding racial diversity challenges.

Several minority-serving colleges made the list when AccessLex analyzed which colleges and universities had the highest concentration of undergrads who later applied to law school.

Among the top 10 list of institutions with the highest percentage of law applicants in 2016 were: Morehouse College, Spellman College, and Hampton University—each of which are Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Also making the list was Saint Mary’s University, in San Antonio, which serves a large number of Hispanic students.

➤ Morehouse had the single highest concentration of law applicants. More than 16 percent of undergraduates applied to law school in 2016. Spellman came in at 14.7 percent; Hampton at 12.3; and St. Mary’s at 11.7.

➤ Yale University was third on the list, with a 14.6 percent application rate and 204 undergraduates applying to law school in 2016.

➤ Also in the Top 10: Amherst College; Georgetown University; Harvard University; the University of Chicago; and Princeton University.

The Access Lex report offers a new way to look at which colleges and universities are sending students down the path to a law degree. The Law School Admission Council has for a long time released a list of top 240 feeder schools, which detail which undergraduate campuses produce the most law applicants. But that list is based on sheer volume. Hence, large public campuses including UCLA, the University of Texas, and Florida State University always top the list.

AccessLex instead looked at applicants per capita by undergraduate enrollment, which accounts for the vastly different size of colleges and universities.

“Minority-serving institutions (MSIs) tend to have relatively small enrollments,” the report reads. “But these institutions, particularly historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs), produce outsized proportions of lawyers and other professionals from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.”

On the one hand, it’s great that students from minority-serving institutions are interested in law school at relatively high rates, but the small size of those campuses means they aren’t going to be a fix for legal education’s diversity woes. They simply aren’t producing enough graduates to plug that gap.

Now on to the bad news. (You didn’t think I was going to forget about that part, did you?)

AccessLex found that the median concentration of law applicants among the top 240 feeder schools dropped from 5.5 percent in 2011 to 3.8 percent in 2016.That won’t surprise anyone who has watched the law school applicant pool shrink from 2010 to 2017. (It’s looking up for 2018.)

The takeaway: Now that this information is out there, it will be interesting to see whether law school admissions offices make a stronger recruiting play at the campuses identified as having high concentrations of law applicants, particularly the minority serving institutions. (I’m guessing that law schools already recruit heavily at Harvard, Yale and the like.)

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When a Noted White Supremacist Shows up in the Law Library…

Let’s add this to the list of scenarios law deans probably don’t envision being thrust into when they accept the job.

The University of Virginia School of Law has temporarily restricted access to its law library after a noted white supremacist dropped by twice in the past two weeks to conduct legal research.

Jason Kessler, who organized August’s notorious Unite the Right rally that was led off by a torch-lit march through the Charlottesville campus by white supremacists, first came to the school’s law library on April 18. The law library is open to the public, though access is traditionally restricted during finals. Kessler didn’t go unnoticed and a crowd of protesters gathered. He filmed himself in the library making anti-Semitic comments about several students, according to this story in the local newspaper.

The law school held a town hall the following day, with students and law dean Risa Goluboff expressing anger at Kessler’s campus visit. For many, according to this account, Kessler’s appearance at the law school dredged up painful memories of the rally last August, where one woman protesting was killed.

Students reported feeling alienated and upset that the law school administration did not formally alert them to what was going on at the time. Gobuloff reportedly broke down in tears as she addressed students, saying that she regretted not having done more to protect them when Kessler was on campus.

Kessler showed up at the law library again on April 25 and was directed to a private room. Students again gathered to protest his presences, and a local man—not a law student—was arrested while attempting to enter the room Kessler was in. Kessler was eventually escorted out of the library under police protection. The law school announced the same day that the public would be restricted from the library through May 11, with additional security measures possible.

My Two Cents: This is a tough one, and yet another facet of the ongoing campus free speech debate that is playing out more and more in law schools. Public universities such as Virginia are in an especially difficult spot in terms of providing law library access to the public, given that they are partially funded with taxpayer dollars. It’s an easier call for a private law school to close its door to everyone outside their law school community. I also think there is something to be said for a law school library serving as a hub and resource to the local legal community and the public, helping to break down some of those silos Cat Moon talked about.

At the same time, the law school exists to teach students, and Kessler’s disruptions could not have come at a worse time with exams starting today. I think Virginia made the right call here. To ban only Kessler raises a free speech issue, thus they needed a blanket public restriction. The onset of final exams gives the law school a little extra cover here, so we’ll have to wait and see if the ban remains once finals conclude.

Question for readers: How should Virginia have handled Kessler’s appearance at the law library? Is restricting public access the right response? Let me know at ksloan@alm.com


Extra Credit Reading:

➤➤ University of California, Berkeley School of Law Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and Stanford Law Professor Mark Lemley debated the recall of Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Aaron Persky, who critics say was too lenient when sentencing former Stanford student athlete Brock Turner to six months in prison for a 2015 sexual assault. Chemerinsky argued against the recall, Lemley for it. Voters will have their say on June 5.

➤➤ Speaking of Stanford, I had fun reporting this story about the law school’s class of 1998, which come the fall will have produced three women law deans at top schools. They are: Gillian Lester at Columbia; Kerry Abrams at Duke; and Kimberly Yuracko, at Northwestern. Not too shabby!

➤➤ A whistleblower suit brought by a former professor at the Charlotte School of Law against the school and its owner, InfiLaw Corp., survives. A Florida judge dismissed most of the claims in the suit, which alleges the defendant defrauded the government of more than $285 million by admitting unqualified students in order to pocket federal loan dollars. But the judge is allowing plaintiff Barbara Bernier to replead four of her claims.

Thanks for reading Ahead of the Curve

I’ll be back next week with more news and updates on the future of legal education. Until then, keep in touch at ksloan@alm.com.