UF Law rolls with profession’s changes
That the legal profession is undergoing significant and rapid change is obvious. Whether you are a UF Law alumnus in private practice, a judge, a prosecutor, public defender or some other kind of public servant, an in-house counsel, someone using your law degree in business or public interest work — or a law school dean or faculty member, trying to understand the nature of these changes and the forces driving them is daunting.
About a year ago, I attended a reception at the law school for the launch of a new Inn of Court in Gainesville named the Gerald T. Bennett Inn of Court after the highly respected and greatly missed UF Law professor who taught at the law school from the late 1960s until his passing in 1999. It is cosponsored by the college and our nearly quarter-century-old “original Gainesville Inn,” the James C. Adkins, Jr. American Inn of Court. The Bennett Inn’s organizing theme is law and technology, which could not be a better choice. Certainly there are many forces that have produced the change we have witnessed in the profession and the practice, such as the economic slowdown of the last several years, changes in client expectations, commoditization in the delivery of some legal services, and so forth, but technological change is at the heart of many of the trends we are witnessing. Many things we have taken as givens about the ways lawyers work and how consumers of legal services receive advice are now changing because of changes in technology, which is revolutionizing how information is gathered and communicated and with whom it is, or can be, shared.
In my comments at the reception for the new inn, I said, in so many words, that the challenge to legal education presented by these changes is that we will fi nd ourselves preparing our students for a world that doesn’t exist anymore. That is the essence of why those of us in legal education need to pay close attention to what is happening in legal markets, the legal practice, and the legal profession. Appreciating these changes and responding to them are necessary to preparing our students to confront and succeed in this rapidly changing legal world. In fact, this is one reason I gave the faculty a “summer reading assignment” last year — the legal futurist Richard Susskind’s book The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services; the idea was to develop a common base of ideas to frame our conversations about developing a new curriculum and improved learning strategies for our students in the future. (If you have not read this book, do not fear; Susskind does not argue that the profession is about to end — but he does argue that it is changing in remarkable ways, and that those who do not adapt will be replaced by those who do.)
This fall, the most signifi cant curricular change in over a decade will occur when the new course Introduction to Lawyering becomes a required course for every fi rst-year UF Law student. This new course will include instruction in professional responsibility (which sets the table for the three-credit required professional responsibility course that is now moved to the second year), an introduction to lawyering skills, and a major component that provides students with an understanding of the nature, culture, and values of, and the changes occurring in, the legal profession. The faculty is also embarking on a comprehensive review of the second and third year curriculum, with the overarching themes of this review being the implementation of the newly articulated “core competencies” that make up the new college mission statement approved after extensive review last year. Speaking with the privilege and honor of serving as your college’s dean, I believe that our alumni should be pleased with and proud of the effort being made to ensure that graduates of UF Law are prepared for both the world that exists and the world that our best efforts can foresee. Predicting the future is a risky business, but I believe UF Law graduates will be the ones best prepared to cope with the future changes we can all be sure are coming, even if we are not certain exactly what they will be.
Thank you most profoundly for your support of our students and faculty. Without your investment in us, your college could not pursue its ambitious teaching and practice-preparation agenda. I hope you will be pleased with the results, and that we will continue to have your support as we pursue these goals.