The following blog post is written by Melissa Yatsko, Regent Law Class of 2016.
First, an introduction is needed. I am a third year law student that happened upon a graduate assistant position for Professor Ben Madison here at Regent University School of Law. It was through this opportunity that I became aware of and involved with the legal education reform movement that is spreading across the nation. Part of my responsibilities is to engage in social media networking. Thus, it was through these avenues that I learned of the articles being published in the New York Times. The one of particular interest was David Siegel’s November 2011 article.
I was astonished at some of the attention grabbing one-liners that were scattered throughout this piece. Namely, the fact that law students are essentially paying for law professors to write scholarly articles that no one reads. Additionally, the entire piece sought to shoot daggers at all law schools, as being inept at teaching law students what was needed most—lawyering skills.
Now, I cannot sit here and say the contention that law schools need to be teaching “lawyering skills” is wrong. It is not. However, after becoming involved in legal education reform, I was optimistically joyed to come across, interact with, and begin collaborating with fellow reformers. For instance, Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, an initiative from the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System (based out of the University of Denver and led by the Carnegie Report’s lead author, William Sullivan). In essence, I was literally floored by the fact that this article left out one key factor—the very fact that legal education reform is occurring. Change is not going to happen over night, especially when the Socratic Method of teaching has been utilized by law schools for over a century. I will briefly offer an opinion here to those that believe change is not taking place fast enough. If law schools were to push for the necessary changes (i.e., integrating practical skills application and professional identity components) overnight, then the changes would likely not last. Anything forced has the potential for unintended consequences, no matter how lofty the original intentions were. For example, forced and immediate changes would likely have the effect of being unnatural and merely on a surface level, as opposed to steadfast and true integrations. It is probably good to remember the old adages here that good things come to those that wait and patience is a virtue.
Another insight I acquired by reading what seemed to be a never-ending stream of responses, whether as blogs, postings to Twitter, or published responses in the New York Times, was a clear lack of concern for what law students believed. Yes, it is law schools that are charged with creating the curriculums, just as it is the law professors that are charged with imparting the knowledge needed to become an attorney. However, legal education reforms are after all for the benefit of law students, right? Therefore, where are the students’ opinions? Why has no one taken the time to ask how we feel? Has anyone thought to sit down with a law student and ask him or her what it is they want from their legal education? I, in particular, want more practical skills training. I do not expect to be taught everything there is to know practically about practicing law. However, I do expect to be introduced to basic level practical skills as part of my education.
Additionally, Siegel, in his article, spoke with other attorneys, large law firms, and a few law professors to arrive at his conclusions. Did he ask any actual law students what was being done at various law schools nationwide? No is the short answer. Also, one cannot spout off about law schools’ poor education without doing a thorough scan of all law schools. There are, after all, over 200 hundred law schools in the United States. Regent University School of Law is devoted to legal education reform and has also been emphasizing professional identity formation for years. Washington and Lee School of Law has been reforming since around 2005. William and Mary School of Law has also tried reforms. These are simply a few schools in the state of Virginia. Forty-nine other states still need to be assessed before making statements that law schools in general are not teaching “lawyering skills.”
Despite all those that have clearly ignored the law students’ opinions, kudosmust be given to the Carnegie Report and Best Practices, as both of them didaccount for student opinions. Given that both are leading authorities on legal pedagogy, this is fitting and well appreciated.
With all of this said, this is my call to all law students out there that care about their education to get involved and have a voice in the reform movement. When students begin speaking up, since clearly we are not going to be asked, then our voices can collectively be heard. This is an integral part of helping reforms take place nationwide within schools that still have not gotten a hint. Together, along with other passionate law schools and law professors, we have the ability to put an end to articles like Siegel’s. Law schools are notorious for competitiveness. However, the competiveness must be put aside for the time being, and we must work together to bring about change that will last.
I urge all law students to start an organization at their school, get involved with already existing organizations, or join law blogs. But most importantly, I simply urge students to speak up and tell legal academia what it is they desire most from their chosen law school. Do not sit idle while the debates continue without us.