That three-word mantra, coined by former New York Law School Dean Rick Matasar, will sound familiar to legal educators who have made the rounds of conferences focusing on the reform of legal education during the past three years.
Matasar, who stepped down from his deanship effective Jan. 1, delivered a cautionary speech during the annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools in Washington on Jan. 5.
“We know there are storm clouds on the horizon,” Matasar said, as he ruminated about the poor job prospects facing students, the growing debt load of graduates and the possibility that outside regulators will force changes upon law schools.
He pulled quotes from speeches he made in 1994, 2004 and 2011, all of which included gloomy predictions for law schools. (In 1994, he warned that students would no longer accept the burden of financing the expansion of their institutions. In 2004, he declared that “the Golden Era” of law schools was over.)
Matasar has begun a new position at New York University in which he will encourage collaboration between that university’s different schools and campuses.
He has long argued that real change would be painful for administrators and professors alike. His views that law schools need the flexibility to take different approaches toward education, such as having faculties that do not enjoy tenure or produce scholarship, have not always been popular. Fellow speaker Judith Areen, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, joked: “There are some who call Rick Matasar the Ron Paul of legal education.”
Areen offered a less dire picture of the future of legal education, but agreed with Matasar that some changes are needed and that law schools need room to experiment. “Obviously, we in legal education need to do more to keep costs down,” she said.
In his parting words, Matasar urged legal educators to think about five new approaches:
• Diversifying to find money sources and build services beyond the traditional juris doctor program.
• Stratifying the marketplace to allow schools serve different functions and fill different niches.
• Collaborating across schools to stretch resources by, for example, sharing faculty members.
• Enrolling students who lack B.A. degrees, as legal educators in other countries do.
• Employing new approaches, such as games and computer applications, that help students learn the law.
Matasar’s message won high praise from University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law Dean Jim Chen.
“Once and for all, Rick Matasar, you are my hero,” Chen said. “No one wants to pay for something that doesn’t pay off.”
Contact Karen Sloan at firstname.lastname@example.org.