Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : February 2007

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 Bar Bulletin Focus

What's New In Legal Education    

What's Next for Legal Education?

Over the past several decades, the most prevalent debates about legal education have centered around the following questions:

  • Is legal education relevant to the legal profession?
  • Does law school adequately train students in professionalism and civility as core values of the profession?
  • Are law graduates adequately prepared in the development of writing skills for the profession?

The first of these questions was addressed in depth in 1992 in the ABA's MacCrate Report on the gap between legal education and the practice of law. Since lawyers also serve as leaders in all spheres of society – law, business, politics, government, education and public service – the question of relevancy has expanded beyond the practice of law to multiple arenas. Similarly, the question of the adequacy of writing skills development has long been a concern of those employing new law graduates. It is ironic that those who complain about the writing skills of current law graduates faced similar complaints when they were newly-minted lawyers. The pervasiveness and persistence of these questions makes them important in looking at the future of legal education.

The clear challenge for law schools is to determine how best to respond to these questions. Many schools have sought to address these concerns. In the '70s, the legal profession, embarrassed by the number of attorneys involved in Watergate, responded with a professional responsibility requirement in all ABA-accredited law schools, a professional responsibility exam as part of the licensing requirement in many states (Maryland is one of few that do not require the exam), and mandatory courses on professionalism for newly-admitted attorneys (Maryland has such a course and a mandatory professionalism course for judges). In the mid-'80s, clinical programs began to gain currency with many law faculties and live client clinics, externships, and simulation courses began to proliferate. In 2007, there is widespread acceptance of these courses and the importance of teaching skills and values in the law school setting. In the '90s, writing programs were examined for their effectiveness. Legal curricula have moved from one-semester writing courses to three-semester courses and increasingly, as we are doing at the University of Baltimore Law School, to programs taught by tenure track professors that merge writing and a doctrinal course. These programs seek to expose students to the importance of analysis as a problem-solving and communication tool. The '90s also saw the beginning of pro bono requirements for graduation from many law schools and widespread discussion of the pro bono obligations of members of the profession – Maryland's response has been the registration requirement for pro bono activities.

All of these developments have greatly improved the quality of legal education in the United States. Challenges for the 21st century include removing the false dichotomy drawn between skills courses and doctrinal courses, ensuring that the curricula in law schools are relevant to the ongoing needs and changes in the legal profession and being vigilant that we are producing graduates who will use the law to promote the core values that have made our legal system the envy of the world – the rule of law, fairness in the application of the law, a concern for social justice and access to justice for all members of society.

At the University of Baltimore, our commitment to leading the way as a 21st century law school that is relevant to all our constituencies is unwavering. In cooperation with the Maryland State Bar Association, we recently initiated a survey to examine the profession's view of the core values and skills that our graduates need to be successful. We have added clinics to provide all students with a client-based clinic experience. As mentioned above, we are rolling out a new Torts/Legal Analysis, Research and Writing course that combines doctrine and skills to expose students to the importance of analysis in all aspects of their professional lives. Other faculty members are incorporating skills training and learning modules in innovative ways to reinforce the importance of practical application of the law in problem-solving.

What's next for legal education? The same challenges that we have faced for more than 35 years – ensuring relevance to the profession that we populate, preparing students for the requirements of serving in a profession that touches every aspect of our society and providing leadership in ensuring equal access to the profession — still exist today. With dedication, innovation and responsiveness, law schools will ably meet these challenges in the years to come.

Gilbert A. Holmes is Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. A legal educator for 17 years, Dean Holmes previously practiced law in New York City for 18 years. These comments are his reflections and do not represent the opinions of the University of Baltimore School of Law.

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: February 2007