Dean Schill Discusses the State of Legal Education

Law school deans discuss the state of today's legal education
Amanda Robert
Chicago Lawyer
August 30, 2010

In the past two years, many law firms laid off partners and associates. Many stopped hiring, or - as shown by the Chicago Lawyer 2010 survey of the largest law firms in Illinois - decreased first-year associate salaries for the first time in years.

Despite this turmoil and an uncertainty over whether jobs and salaries will rise again, the deans of five Chicago law schools report that student enrollment shows no signs of slowing down.

In a recent roundtable discussion, John E. Corkery, dean of The John Marshall Law School; Harold J. Krent, dean of Chicago Kent-College of Law; Michael H. Schill, dean of University of Chicago Law School; Warren D. Wolfson, interim dean of DePaul University College of Law; and David N. Yellen, dean of Loyola University Chicago School of Law (who participated via conference call) discussed how changes in the economic climate and industry standards affect legal education.

Here is a portion of that discussion:

What is the biggest way legal education has changed in the past five years?

Schill: Five years is a very short period. I would have given a different answer if it had been 20 years.

I think that over the past five years, there has been a combination of greater emphasis on and discussion about skills training, as compared to analytical training .

More and more schools are thinking about curriculum reform, with both international courses in the first year, as well as administrative law courses in the first year.

Corkery: The changes started before five years with the emphasis on international law . We send students all over, students come to us from all over . Also, I think alternative dispute resolution is beginning to get some traction, and the view of law as a problem-solving entity, where you use the law to solve the problem rather than just use the law to determine what the outcome is or how to win.

What if we go back 10 or 20 years?

Yellen: If you back up more, as Mike suggested, I think a big change in the last 20 years is that we're much more in a competitive marketplace for students, faculty, reputation and money and all of those things than when any of us went to law school.

Wolfson: To follow up on that, the driving force that was not in existence 10 or 20 years ago was the magazine, U.S. News & World Report , which in many ways is driving legal education in America.

Corkery: If you go back 20 years, a big change has been the number of women in law schools. It's almost 50/50 at this point.

As others have mentioned, all law schools are kind of in an arms race. Everybody's trying to do everything better. More faculty, more students. I mean, Loyola, John Marshall, and Kent, 25 years ago, we were all one-room schoolhouses. One building, basically. And now, we're all expanding. Our faculties have expanded quite a bit.

Krent: Part of that is tied in with the experiential drive that Mike talked about. You need a very different faculty-student ratio when you're working on clinical projects .

I think in terms of curriculum topics, intellectual property has exploded in the last 20 years, not in the last five. Twenty years ago, most schools had two or three courses, and we probably have 20 now. That's a very significant expansion.

The other thing . is the movement toward interdisciplinary studies. We're not as much of an autonomous discipline as we were 20 years ago. There's much more of an overt reaching out to sociology, economics, philosophy, anthropology to see what insights we can glean from those disciplines in order to help not only our own faculty's scholarship, but the educational development for our students.

Schill: That's really been the major change of our generation. Law is no longer a discipline that you learn up in the law library. It's a discipline that is touching all parts of the university. Our students are taking courses everywhere in the university, and we want them to be doing that.

In addition, our faculty are increasingly composed of people with doctorates. With both J.D.s, in most cases, and with Ph.D.s in the fields that you mentioned. That's been a huge change, and to my mind, a change for the better .

Michael H. Schill