This month’s post shifts the focus a bit from looking at the legal industry itself to role of law school in preparing students for 21st century law practice. Given the rapidly changing state of the legal industry, both law students and lawyers alike need to be able to adapt and adapt quickly.

The central question in terms of law schools is what can law schools be doing to better prepare their graduates for the practice of law in the 21st century? I was privileged to have had a discussion with one law school dean unafraid to tackle this question head-on. He is Dean and Harold Washington Professor at Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, Daniel B. Rodriguez. What follows is many of the key points raised during our discussion.

  • What can law schools be doing differently to attract students and prepare them to practice in this century?

The crux of the question is what does the profession need? You need to look at the demand for graduates and the need for particular types of graduates. To that point, the type of graduate that the profession is demanding has changed and is continuing to change. As for law schools themselves, law schools will change when employers demand that they change. Another consideration is the curriculum. You need to be able to show value to prospective students both in the short-term and in the medium-term. At the same time, while employers may not want to spend time or money on training graduates, law schools cannot teach everything that one needs to be able to do in order to practice.

  • What was the impetus behind your interest in innovation and legal tech?

Upon gathering input from alumni and making connections within the legal community, it is clear that that the law profession has been faced with enormous challenges over the past 10 years or so. Anyone in my position having an outward facing role would absorb insights from those working in the real world, particularly young alumni. I have now become an evangelist for reforms within legal education, the bar, and the bench. The changes currently underway are not cyclical. They are structural.

  • Why are law schools resistant to change?

The reluctance to change their business model and curriculum is a sign of a) the professorial not quite getting it and b) from the fact that those in the academy live in a bubble. At the same time, law schools are still making money due to students enrolling in decent numbers. Thus, so long as students are enrolling in law schools in decent numbers, then law schools do not have the incentives to change since change costs time and money. Law students should demand more of their law schools and should exercise discerning judgment in the law school that they attend. Choose that law school which best prepares them for a dynamic professional future.

  • Should folks go to law school?

Should folks go to law school? Maybe. Certainly not any law school and not all folks should go. They ought to be savvy and sophisticated consumers and ask hard questions of the schools that they are applying to and, once in, make demands for a curriculum that prepares them for dynamic and changing world.

  • What should law schools being more of in the area of legal technology/innovation?

I have been a strong advocate for law schools to break down the longstanding silos between what lawyers do, what business folks do, and what technology folks do. Law schools should begin exploring questions that bring together these three areas and encourage their students to work at the intersection of these three areas. In addition, schools should do a better job of teaching students a range of skills that will enable them to be able to move smoothly among these three areas. For example, help students learn how to analyze a business strategy, work with a spreadsheet, and/or analyze some basic code, in addition to answering legal questions.