It is customary for outgoing presidents to deliver remarks about their year as president. This is bittersweet for me because the year has passed quickly. Time seemed to slow, however, when the New York Times published an op-ed on student loans. As I reflect on events that have occurred since my presidency commenced, I recognize the resilience of the academy and its continued evolution during difficult times.
The theme of this annual meeting, “innovation through challenge,” rings true. I have seen law schools all over the country continue to evolve and progress, even in the midst of extreme challenges. There are two words that typify what I believe have been the cornerstones of my year as president of this wonderful association: voice and innovation. With regard to voice, the association has become a tenable voice for American legal education. Never has there been a time when that voice has been more critical than today.
We have all read the headlines and blogs about the many challenges that beset legal education. My year as president began with a press conference during the AALS Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C. last year, and ends this weekend in a similar fashion. Media appearances have indeed been a continuing thread throughout this presidency, with the theme of highlighting the academy’s response to these notorious challenges.
Over the past 12 months, I have spoken on behalf of the AALS in countless media interviews, resulting in articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education, The Washington Post, Diverse Issues in Higher Education, and many other publications. You have no doubt seen our engagement with the New York Times, which, in November, published an editorial that criticized law schools for increasing student debt and failing to address poor job outcomes. The AALS response, quickly crafted by President-Elect Kellye Testy, Executive Director Judy Areen, and me, has provided balance in an otherwise one-sided discussion.
Innovation constitutes the second cornerstone of my presidency. While not receiving the same news coverage as the challenges to legal education, law schools nationwide continue to establish programs and minimize costs. As AALS president, I have indeed enjoyed a unique vantage point from which to view the continual evolution of legal education from multiple lenses. I can say with conviction that most law schools continue to seek more effective ways to prepare students for the complex, global marketplace and, thus, provide greater educative value. Innovations include an increasing number of externships and internships, the implementation of flexible and accelerated degree programs, a growing focus on experiential and international opportunities, extensive pro bono offerings, and revamped curriculum offerings, including professional development courses that provide students with the tools to become successful and professionally fulfilled.
Notwithstanding the fact that the catalyst for innovation has been the market, the changes to the academy remain evident and undoubtedly necessary. These changes have not overshadowed the seminal benefit of our industry—sharpening skills in critical thinking, and this is indeed fortunate. Never has there been a time when the world has more needed individuals who have the critical thinking skills, imagination, and problem solving skills that a global, diverse environment maintains and requires.
I have visited many of you during my term as president. I have also met with sister organizations, including the ABA and the LSAC, served as keynote speaker at the installation of Wendy Scott as the new Dean of the Mississippi College of Law, and had the opportunity to speak during commencement exercises at the Alexander Blewett III School of Law at the University of Montana. All of these duties reinforced the vigor of the academy and its quest to evolve with a spirit of optimism.
As I reflect on my year as president and study our history, I recognize that legal education has been in a constant state of evolution for more than 140 years. Commencing with an apprenticeship-based model and then dominated by Langdell’s “law as science,” American legal education now has morphed into a quasi-hybrid, with classroom instruction that exercises critical thinking being augmented by increasing opportunities for experiential learning. Undoubtedly the academy will increasingly produce better professionals who can compete in a global market. The innovations I have witnessed at member schools adds credence to the evolution of the academy, and the professionalism that is instilled in our students will result in the enrichment of the communities in which they will serve.
In my year as president, AALS forged an alliance with Access Group, which will provide greater support for our mission of “voice” with enhancements to communication. We truly value this relationship, and will continue to cultivate synergies with other stakeholders in legal education. Doing so recognizes that the academy’s challenges have implications for all of higher education and the profession of law.
This past year, I have also had the privilege, pleasure, and honor of working with a dedicated Executive Committee, the members of which have tirelessly contributed their wisdom and judgment to the business of the AALS. I also acknowledge the wonderful staff at AALS, headed most ably and adroitly by Judy Areen. Everyone on the staff has worked indefatigably to ensure the organization’s success, and I am most grateful.
To serve AALS and to have visited and worked with you has been immensely gratifying. I sincerely hope to continue that engagement for years to come. But as I depart the presidency, I leave you with lingering thoughts. Our challenges continue. Critiques abut legal education, including expense, value, and paucity of jobs will likely continue. The fact remains, however, that the world needs dedicated, professional, and community-committed lawyers and professionals, and this truism should strengthen our resolve to evolve and respond to critiques.
I remain the pragmatic optimist, noting that our duty to evolve through innovation remains. I also, however, continue to believe that American legal education, which is still envied worldwide, will not only survive but also must thrive. I am grateful to you, my colleagues, for maintaining the faith and proving that quality legal education is not only relevant, but also essential.
There are millions of narratives regarding lawyers, educated by our schools, who have done so much for society. Lawyers are an indispensable force in this global environment. Join with me to amplify these narratives and, in turn, prove the holistic value of American legal education. Thanks you for granting me the privilege of serving as your president, your efforts to evolve and improve legal education, and your resolute spirit. Enjoy the remainder of our meeting.