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The Future of Legal Education (FutureEd)

FutureEd is PLP's research initiative examining various aspects of legal education reform. Law schools are facing enormous challenges as they attempt to prepare students for a rapidly changing legal market. Globalization and technological advances are providing new opportunities for the legal profession, while at the same time many legal employers are hiring far fewer graduates than in the past. How should lawyers be trained in this dramatically new environment? What trends are likely to be temporary, and what changes may be permanent? The Program seeks to explore these cutting-edge issues while simultaneously engaging historical pedagogical debates and theories and exploring innovation regarding how lawyers should best be trained for the profession.

Indeed, from the deeply critical 2007 Carnegie Foundation report on the state of American law schools to the dramatic effects of the recent recession on law student placement and overall legal practice, law schools are scrambling to predict and position themselves within a rapidly changing market. Few clients are willing to pay for the professional development of law firm associates yet they expect and rely on quality training for outside legal teams and in-house recruits. Outside the U.S., systems of legal education in places like India, China and Brazil are also in tremendous flux, burdened by myriad challenges to bar professionalism and commerce-enabling rule of law but also filled with fascinating and potentially transformational entrepreneurship and experimentation. Objective information and systemic thought leadership on how to address these challenges and evolutionary dynamics are scarce and the Program seeks to fill this void.

We must fundamentally reconsider the Langdell model of legal education pioneered at HLS itself nearly a century ago and explore the most promising models for delivering education and training in the coming decades. We must critically examine innovations already taking place in different markets and settings around the world and then extract best practices and adapt them to suit the changing realities of the profession—and academia. In planning how we get there from here, we must (at a minimum) formulate achievable initiatives for reform, respond to the evolutionary dynamics of modern legal practice, and promote core values such as improved diversity and global rule of law.

Program faculty and fellows will continue conduct research and produce scholarship and action plans on various aspects of legal education reform. We are committed to study and thought leadership that transcends traditional thinking about law school challenges. For example, how might alternative law school admissions criteria or structural innovations such as law schools ‘without walls’ change the financial burdens, diversity and early professional opportunities of entering lawyers?  How can we better provide ‘cradle to grave’ legal education, mentoring and professional development opportunities for lawyers? What effects will the advent of expensive private law schools and spreading use of LSAT-style admissions testing in foreign jurisdictions of the sort so deeply criticized in the U.S. have on the diversity and career development of the bar in those countries and on multinational practice? How might the interactions between legal education systems in emerging markets and public sector regulatory bodies influence local innovation policies and the adoption of core rule of law values?

We anticipate that our activities in this area will culminate in publishable research articles and white papers including concrete proposals for reform, as well as conferences and other collaborative events (including the FutureEd 2 conference featured in Section C below) that will further focus our work in this area and set the stage for fully developed and pioneering legal education reform initiatives that could be rolled out in conjunction with HLS’ 200th anniversary in 2017, if not before.

Read about the FutureEd series of conferences.

The Working Group for Distance Learning in Legal Education grew from the relationships formed at the FutureEd series of conferences. The group continues to meet semi-annually and collaborate on developing best practices for law schools and bar associations. Learn more

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