This week, I write to share a program, the Mentor Externship Program at University of St. Thomas School of Law, that I have successfully emulated at two other law schools.  I am not the only admirer. St Thomas’ version of the program was awarded the American Bar Association’s E. Smythe Gambrell Professionalism Award, and a similar program (modeled on St. Thomas’ program) is part of a comprehensive professionalism curriculum, created by my former colleagues at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, William H. Bowen School of Law, also received a Gambrell Professionalism Award.

Every entering student at St. Thomas is matched with a mentor who is either a judge or practices in an area of law of interest to the student. The goals of this program include fostering professionalism, developing students’ interpersonal skills, and deepening students’ self-directed learning skills.

First-year students focus on developing good relationships with their mentors and logging 18 hours of fieldwork. Students receive guidance on professionalism, communication, time management, and making the most of mentor relationships through programs held throughout the year. The first year has no seminar component, and no academic credit is earned.

Second- and third-year students complete 30 hours of fieldwork per year while maintaining good relationships with their mentor. In addition, students take a required one credit seminar each year. The seminars are taught by full- and part-time faculty. These faculty mentors teach up to 16 students in small group classes and assist students in meeting their self-defined objectives throughout the year.

Fieldwork experiences are combined with reflective writing to promote students’ self-reflection skills. For more information, try this link; click on each of the sub-links.

Having served as the dean at two law schools that have implemented similar programs, I have now heard from dozens of students who regarded their mentoring experiences as among their best experiences as law students. Many have reported discovering new potential areas of practice or discovering that an area of law they thought was attractive was not. A good number have secured summer and even permanent jobs as a result of their mentoring experiences.

Nova Southeastern University’s (NSU) Shepard Broad College of Law has established a curriculum it calls the NSU Law Leadership Academy that is designed to develop its students’ technological, financial, and global economic competencies. Students may elect to take a specialized list of courses that include, among others, Business Operations for Lawyers, Strategic Planning for Lawyers, and Law Practice Business and Technology Workshop. I will highlight two of the courses that most intrigued me.

First, NSU Law describes its course in Business Operations in this way, “In every area of legal practice, one or more of the parties in a transaction or dispute are business enterprises operating using a common set of disciplines and tools to share information, evaluate risk, and make financially-based decisions. This course provides law students with an introduction to these primary tools of quantitative analysis and research relied upon daily in the for-profit business, nonprofit, and public sectors. Lawyers who understand these tools can better understand the needs of their clients, provide additional strategies for structuring transactions and resolving disputes, and adding discipline to the operations of lawyers’ own law firms. Through simulations, exercises and discussions, students will explore how best to apply these tools to the practice of law.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the field often referred to as “Legal Operations,” take a look at a graphic created by Professor Bill Henderson of  the University of Indiana Mauer School of Law that depicts the Legal Operations Core Competencies. Professor Henderson’s compelling Legal Evolution Blog includes a section devoted to Legal Ops.

A second NSU class, Law Practice Business and Technology Workshop is intended to supplement NSU Law’s Law Office Management Course. As NSU explains, “This course provides hands-on experience for students on a number of key operational aspects of the practice of law, including the business foundation of successful law firm management; security and confidentiality of client information; marketing, public relations, advertising and social media; duties of technological competence under ABA ‘Ethics 20/20’ amendments to the Model Rules of Professional Responsibility; predictive coding and other eDiscovery issues; client intake and case management; and issues related to the scope and composition of representation, including the unauthorized practice of law and unbundled legal services.”

Together, the courses that compose NSU Law’s new leadership curriculum are an important step in nudging legal education towards its inevitable and dramatically different future. New attorneys will need to be adept in the use of constantly evolving business and technology tools and practices thus better preparing them to adapt to their clients’ changing needs.

Having spent time with a wide variety of senior partners in major business law firms throughout California and Arkansas, I have lost count how many times I have heard them wish that law school graduates who enter into a business law practice would better understand the business aspects of business law, including finance, business strategy, and business analytics.  Given my own practice experience, working on a number of construction defect cases even though I knew nothing about construction or the construction business, also gave me an understanding that law students need to learn more than just law.

Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law has taken up the challenge in a big way.  Beginning in Fall 2017, he law school has begun offering a suite of five courses through the university’s Kellogg School of Management: Accounting for Decisionmaking; Business Analytics; Business Strategy; Finance 1; and Leadership in Organizations.  The courses are taught by Kellogg faculty and are courses that Kellogg’s MBA students also take. Here is a link to a story about the new courses from the Northwestern Pritzker website.

Northwestern reports that in this, the first year of this new set of offerings, enrollment has been robust: 51 students in Accounting; 28 students in Business Analytics; 39 students in Business Strategy; 15 students in Finance; and 38 students in Leadership in Organizations.  These enrollment numbers suggest that the Northwestern Pritzker student population has responded very positively to this new opportunity.

As outgoing Dean Daniel Rodriquez argues in the linked story, great lawyers are T-shaped, possessing both deep knowledge of the law and broad knowledge of related fields, including, for future business lawyers, the world of business.

This week’s posting focuses on Georgia State’s new Center for Access to Justice, which was founded in 2016 to support those working to ensure meaningful access to the courts and equal treatment in the civil and criminal justice systems, with a regional focus on the South.”  This development is an exciting one; Georgia State is taking concrete action to understand and start to address our country’s access to justice issues.

The Center’s draft third newsletter, of which I received a preview copy, explains the need for such a center much better than I possibly could. Director and Associate Professor Lauren Sudeall Lucas and Assistant Director Dracy Meals start with Justice Black’s famous quote on access to justice: “[there] can be no equal justice where the kind of trial a man gets depends on the amount of money he has.” (Griffin v. Illinois, 351 U.S. 12, 19 (1956)). They then detail the need for the Center:

. . . 60 years later, 80 percent of state criminal defendants cannot afford to pay for a lawyer, and only those who are actually incarcerated are constitutionally entitled to appointed counsel. Many people facing misdemeanor charges can, if convicted, face significant fines and fees, the loss of benefits (including housing), or deportation. But they have no right to an attorney, and those who cannot afford a lawyer go without one.

In the civil justice context, there is no federal constitutional right to counsel despite the fact that civil cases can involve a range of critical issues, including housing, public benefits, child custody and domestic violence. Though certain jurisdictions provide a right to counsel under limited circumstances, in most of these cases, people who cannot afford a lawyer will have no choice but to go to court alone. Representing themselves through the complex legal process may mean that their claim is dismissed for a technical reason, or that they lose a meritorious case.

Much of the public, and often the litigants themselves, incorrectly believe that indigent people are not only legally entitled to a lawyer in any kind of case, but that getting one at no cost is simply a matter of making the request.

The Center for Access to Justice at Georgia State University College of Law is working to change that misconception, demonstrating through research how lower-income individuals have a fundamentally different experience with the civil and criminal justice systems, particularly in the South.

The Center has already hosted a conference, entitled State of the South, focusing on the intersection of access to justice in the context of overlapping civil and criminal matters, developed mechanisms and programs to support students interested in public interest or pro bono work, and taken on some significant research projects, including:

  • Conducting a pilot study of individuals’ interactions with dispossessory courts, which handle eviction proceedings (funded by a grant),
  • Commissioning an interactive Access to Justice Map of Georgia, and
  • Studying the civil legal needs of indigent criminal defendants (also funded by a grant).

The fact that the Center was able to secure grant funding for these projects makes the Center’s launch even more exciting.  U.S. law schools have done a poor job, by and large, in applying for and securing grant funding; Georgia State’s successes show there are opportunities we are missing.

More generally, at least in my opinion, the more law schools become part of the solution for access to justice issues (beyond our legal clinics and externships), the better.

 

 

Civility (or its absence in our day-to-day discourse) has become a topic of great national concern. A November 2017 study found that nearly 75% of those surveyed completely or mostly agree that incivility in this country has risen to crisis levels and 60% of those surveyed tuned out political conversations that had a negative tone or otherwise lacked civility.

The legal profession also seems to have a civility problem. A 2015 Above the Law article asserts “It is no secret that civility is at an all-time low among lawyers” and “we need to stop training lawyers to be jerks.” Lawyers need to learn to disagree more respectfully.  The courts seem to be concerned. In September, the Federal Judicial Center and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sponsored a “symposium” entitled, “The Nature and Practice of Civil Discourse.”

Boston University School of Law has implemented its own initiative aimed at addressing civility in law practice that it has entitled “Critical Conversations.” BU Dean Maureen A. O’Rourke explained that Critical Conversations is “a series in which the entire community is invited to meet to talk about difficult issues.” She reported that “The series has inspired collegial and professional conversations about difficult topics.” BU Law’s Brenda Hernandez, Associate Director for Diversity & Inclusion, wrote me that Critical Conversations invites participation from students, faculty, and staff and has tackled difficult and complex subjects such as Privilege, Faith and the Law; Ableism – Perspectives from the Deaf Community; Class and Puerto Rican identity. BU Law’s first Difficult Conversation session in 2018 will focus on Title IX and the #MeToo movement.

As future lawyers, our students need to be able to discuss even controversial topics effectively and civilly. BU’s model is worth considering.

As this article by Moses Ma, a business consultant, published by Psychology Today explains, the adage “Innovation loves a crisis” is a product of the brain’s neuroplasticity. When humans experience a major stressor, at least some humans react by stretching, by thinking and learning to a new degree. Ma uses the example of the Apollo 13 mission crisis as an example of how stress can lead to meaningful innovation.

Of course, good ideas are only valuable to the extent that we implement them. Ma argues in the linked article that innovation is even more a matter of courage than a matter of brains. I agree. In this 2014 article by Jeff Haden published by Entrepreneur, the author explains the “8 Qualities That Make Bosses Unforgettable.” (Confession: I really like this article and may come back to it in a future post.) Haden’s second quality of unforgettable bosses is that “They see opportunity in instability and uncertainty” and eighth quality is that “They take real, not fake, risks.”

The challenges facing legal education in the 2010s are not as dire or dramatic as those the crew and NASA confronted during the Apollo 13 mission crisis. And the changes law schools are making may be uninteresting to those who are not legal educators, but law faculty and deans have chosen to respond to our challenges by innovating. This blog is an effort to celebrate extraordinary innovations in legal education; most, but not all, of the innovations are ones that have been implemented during what all agree is a crisis in legal education.

In each blog entry, excluding this one, I will describe an innovation at a law school (other than an innovation at the law school where I work, University of Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law) and then share my views as to why the innovation is worth noting and even, perhaps, emulating.