These are challenging times for legal education. Since the Great Recession of 2008, law school applications have declined amidst an increasingly competitive job market for graduates. Stories of doom and gloom about the state of higher education seem to dominate the news, much of that coverage focused on law schools. Recent years have been marked by a seemingly non-stop tide of negative press about the efficacy of a law degree, coupled with ubiquitously pejorative perceptions of practitioners.
There is no question, of course, that American legal education—and indeed all of higher education—is challenged. But the news is not as bleak as it appears. One commonly held misconception espoused by the media is that there are too many lawyers: why mint so many more?
The increasing complexity of a global market demands outstanding lawyers who not only represent their clients, but also confront and shape the most significant challenges and issues of our day. A legal education advances not only individual goals, but society as a whole, by producing well-trained professionals with the critical thinking and creative problem-solving skills to become 21st century leaders and innovators. Moreover, there remains an enormous demand for legal representation for the underserved throughout the nation. Increasing access to affordable legal services is an area where American legal education can—and must—make an impact.
Another frequently heard myth is that law schools are not keeping pace with the changing world. There is not a single law school I know of that is not innovating to prepare students for the new world that awaits them. Examples of these innovations include steadily increasing numbers of externships and internships, the implementation of flexible and accelerated degree programs, a growing focus on experiential and international opportunities, and professional development courses that provide students with the tools to excel in today’s global marketplace.
Current challenges facing American legal education have opened the door to new opportunity and the legal academy is meeting those challenges head on. A long road lies ahead, but the American legal academy continues to move in the right direction, ensuring a bright future for all.
Blake D. Morant
AALS President and Dean,
The George Washington University Law School