Not in over a hundred years has there been such rapid change in the world of legal education. A model that was developed in the late 19th century has been expanded and built upon for decades, to the point where the U.S. now has more spaces for students in law schools than there are candidates to fill them.
While law school deans are grappling with this enrollment crisis, it is merely the reflection of the broader and deeper changes within the profession. For tomorrow’s law schools to serve their students and serve society, we must first understand where the profession is heading, and structure our programs to match.
Several trends are obvious. The BigLaw hiring machine of the last three decades is dramatically shrunken. Fewer law students go through a structured program of résumé screens and interviews to be hired as groups of new associates. Law firms are pressured now by their clients to hire lawyers who are already skilled enough to add value and be worthy of billing to the client.
That has several implications. First, job searches are more customized, with narrower criteria and fewer qualified applicants for each position. Second, more firms are hiring associates two or three years out of law school, after they have had their training completed at another employer’s expense.
What does this mean for law schools? We need to help our students find a new balance, between a strategic curriculum that provides some of the specialized skill needed for a chosen career path, deeper core skills in writing, and a breadth of understanding of the law in areas in which they are unlikely to practice.
We must also attend to the personal challenges of practice. Few law students grasp the level of pressure they will experience in the work world. And few are prepared for the behavioral changes they must undergo to work well in the office cultures they are entering. Law schools will serve our students best if we help them learn and grow in these dimensions in addition to analytical and skills learning.
UConn Law School is rededicating itself to these ideals in the coming year. We are successfully implementing the experiential learning requirement adopted by the faculty a year ago, by which every graduating student will have taken at least one clinic, simulation, or externship course. We are reexamining our curriculum to find ways to enhance training in writing and give coaching and support to those who seek judicial clerkships after graduation.
At the same time we are building guides to our students’ strategic selection of courses to match their career goals. And we are paying close attention to employment trends, to offer the training that students will need to compete in the growth areas of the job market.
Finally, the UConn Law School, as the law school of the State of Connecticut, must never forget its public responsibility. Law schools, more than any other professional schools, train the leaders of tomorrow. Our library is a great resource to the practicing bar and the public. And through our research and scholarship, we incubate the new ideas that help society find order, and develop new law to reflect the growing complexities of modern life. This is a wonderful mission, and those who have dedicated their careers to legal education are blessed to have such a role in our state, country and the world. •