Text Size:

Law school deans speak about legal education


Deans from five local law schools joined a panel to discuss the changes in legal education. The forum was hosted by the Council for Court Excellence at our semi-annual Board meeting on June 6 at the Jones Day law firm.

Joining the panel were:

  • Paul Schiff Berman – George Washington University Law School
  • Katherine “Shelley” Broderick – University of the District of Columbia
  • Claudio M. Grossman – American University
  • Veryl V. Miles – Catholic University
  • Kurt L. Schmoke – Howard University

Pat McGlone, CCE’s Vice President, moderated the discussion.

He framed the discussion by citing introductory data about admissions and the climbing cost of legal education. Specifically, private law school tuition has increased at nearly triple the rate of inflation in the last decade. The average graduate can expect to take on a total debt of $125,000 to finance a law school education. With dim employment prospects, LSAT registration has decreased by 25%.

In this challenging climate, how are deans addressing the needs of students, the demands of employers, and the pressure to climb the rankings ladder?

Each dean began by defining the values that make their law school unique, particularly in a city as saturated with law students and law firms as Washington, DC. Dean Berman characterized GWU Law School as “law in action,” emphasizing their clinics. Dean Broderick highlighted UDC as the affordable option for quality education. Dean Grossman spoke about American University’s emphasis on international law and strategic global partnerships. Dean Miles emphasized Catholic University’s core values of service through the practice of law. And Dean Schmoke spoke of Howard University’s legacy of diversity and its recent emphasis on alternative dispute resolution. The discussion explored the evolution of legal education from teaching students to “think like a lawyer” to teaching them to practice law through clinics and other practicum.

A question-and-answer session allowed the audience to ask, for example, what trends the deans might call to the attention of the employers of their future graduates. (“The client doesn’t want you to respond with a tweet,” was one dean’s quick response.) Another question pointedly asked the deans how they understood their institution to be accountable for producing a high-quality candidate for employment in a law firm.

The program closed with a lively discussion of the US News law school rankings. Several deans expressed concern about the formulae used to determine rankings. The criteria can force the schools to enter a cycle of high costs (passed on to the students through tuition) and selective admissions. These pressures to climb in the rankings, some deans said, ultimately serve neither the interests of the schools nor their students.

CCE’s semi-annual Board meetings are always open to guests. Watch our May and November newsletters for announcements about the special programs which we present at these gatherings.

Copyright ©2011-2012 The Council for Court Excellence. All rights reserved.