Spring 2019 Gavel Spring Gavel 2019 - Page 28

THE FUTURE OF LEGAL EDUCATION Brad Myers, Interim Dean University of North Dakota School of Law I want to take the opportunity in my last column as interim dean of the University of North Dakota (UND) School of Law to offer some of my perspectives on the future of legal education. Here I want to focus on national legal education trends, rather than things happening at UND or in our region. The reimagination of legal education started more than a decade ago. It began with a reassessment of how and what we taught aspiring lawyers. The conversation began in earnest with the publication of Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law and Best Practices in Legal Education in 2007 and 2008. These publications led to much more critical commentary on pedagogy, the best ways to produce practice ready lawyers, and the goals of legal education. At the risk of making a very complicated discussion sound simple, we determined the best way to train lawyers involves smaller class sizes, considerably more assessment and feedback, and more guided and reflective experiential learning. I want to stay away from these very important educational topics and focus on the fiscal aspects of legal education. What we have identified as best 28 THE GAVEL practices are labor intensive and expensive. The business and finances of legal education limit the resources we have. As a business lawyer, I ask if we can find the financial resources to give the next generation of lawyers the best educational experience. Law school resources start with tuition. Market conditions indicate increasing tuition will not likely be a source of additional revenue in the near future. Law students simply will not take on any further debt to finance their education. Although the average debt for law school graduates actually dropped in 2017, for the first time since 2010, private school graduates still had debt of about $130,000, while public school graduates had debt of about $92,000. What we have seen in admissions is students paying careful attention to the cost of their education and a willingness to attend the institution that offers them the best value. Law schools have responded by offering more discounts to tuition. Although published tuition rates remain high, the effective tuition actually collected from students has dropped. Legal education probably collects as much tuition from students as the market will currently bear. If students will not pay more, another way to increase revenue is to enroll more students. Unfortunately, the lack of jobs for graduates limits the ability to increase enrollment. Legal employment, at least jobs that require a person to have a JD, is flat. While the National Association on Law Placement reported an increase to 71.8 percent of 2017 graduates who found jobs that required bar passage, this increase appears primarily driven by a decrease in the number of graduates. The actual number of jobs has been flat or decreased for the third year in a row and the number of jobs is down almost 20 percent from its peak in 2007. Note that some of the jobs in this category were part- time or temporary. These numbers indicate the employment picture for JD graduates nationwide does not justify an increase in the number of students. Law schools should expect to experience increasing pressure to limit JD enrollments to the number of graduates who can reasonably expect to find work. Without more JD students or increased tuition, law schools must look to other places to raise revenue. Already, many law schools have looked to establish non-JD programs. These generally take the form of masters in legal studies (MLS) or LL.M. degrees. MLS degrees usually consist of one to two years of classes drawn from the regular law school curriculum. LL.M. degrees come in two types. The traditional ones consist of advanced study in a specific topic area like taxation or intellectual property. Increasingly, however, law schools are offering LL.M.s