No one reading this column needs to be reminded that the legal profession is experiencing extraordinarily rapid change. The recession, the trend toward globalized business, the pace of technological change, and the constant evolution in how we communicate with each other and transfer knowledge are but a few of the factors forcing changes in how law is practiced and the legal profession is structured. Our ABA President Steve Zack (JD 71) has said that the legal profession will change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 100 years, and I fully agree with this prediction.
With changes in the practice of law and the legal profession must come changes in legal education. If law schools ignore the various factors driving change in the practice and the profession, we will end up investing our time, energy and resources in preparing students to practice in a world that no longer exists. Since 2007, when the Carnegie Report was published, the faculty at the Levin College of Law, working largely through a process involving the strategic planning committee along with some others, has been engaged in a serious conversation about how the curriculum should change in light of these significant changes in the profession.
The starting point for this review was to look at the articulated “vision and mission statement” for the college. Our “vision” remains unchanged from the purposes articulated many years ago: to be a law school “dedicated to advancing human dignity, social welfare, and justice through knowledge of law.” But in November 2010, the faculty voted unanimously to amend our “mission statement.” The prior mission statement called for the college to pursue four indisputably valuable and important aspirations – “Excellence in educating professionals, advancing legal scholarship, serving the public, and fostering justice” – and these are retained in the new mission statement. But the new mission statement goes further and calls us to train our students in the “highest ideals of the legal profession,” in not only the knowledge of the substantive law, but also “the skills necessary to use that knowledge in practice,” and in the “core competencies essential to begin the practice of law.”
Core competencies are further defined, and include “the ability to conduct independent legal research and produce legal writings of professional quality,” “fundamentals of client services,” “interviewing and counseling skills,” “fundamentals of dispute processing and legal problem solving,” “knowledge of the shared values of the legal profession,” “the skills to create a professional identity” and “the skills to work with people from diverse backgrounds.”
This new mission statement is a compelling statement of what the faculty and I believe constitutes the essential characteristics of a 21st-century lawyer. The statement shows a recognition of the importance of melding practical skills, emotional intelligence and substantive knowledge into the pre-graduation training of a law student. What we are now doing is working on a re-design of the curriculum to achieve the goals outlined in the new mission statement. Alumni have provided input on the re-design, including through a faculty retreat held in April with alumni representatives on the Law Center Association Board of Trustees.
The path on which your law school has embarked is a far distance from the image of a law school built in an ivory tower and disconnected from the real world into which our students graduate and will practice law. Our path values the real work lawyers do, the awesome responsibilities owed to our clients and the system of justice, and the high standards of ethics and integrity that must guide our daily decisions in the practice.
As the dean of your law school, I have several hopes as we embark on this process of change. I hope you are pleased with the path we are choosing. I hope that you will share your suggestions and insights about the specific steps we should consider as we build a curriculum to fulfill the goals in our new mission statement. This being a time of great financial stress for all of us, I hope you will consider, if you are not already a contributor to your college, a gift that shows your willingness to participate in our work and communicates an endorsement of our efforts.
As always, I am grateful for your past support, and I take great pride in the honor and privilege I have to serve as the dean of your college.