Sea Change: The Seismic Shift in the Legal Profession and How Legal Writing Professors Will Keep Legal Education Afloat in its Wake
Kirsten Anne Dauphinais
University of North Dakota School of Law
September 28, 2010
Kirsten A. Dauphinais, Sea Change: The Seismic Shift in the Legal Profession and How Legal Writing Professors Will Keep Legal Education Afloat in its Wake, 10 Seattle J. Soc. Just. (2012).
2010 finds us in the midst of what commentators have called “The Great Recession” and the effects on the legal profession have been profound. Law firms have lost their immunity to recession and industry leaders are concluding that the recession has and will continue to have an enduring impact on the profession, including extensive layoffs, salary decreases, hiring freezes, firm closures, and even deaths.
Many observers have predicted that these changes may prove to be permanent, not only because of the magnitude of the economic downturn, but also because the present predicament is only an acceleration of the decline of an already failing system, including the fundamental erosion of the traditional large firm model organization for law practice, often referred to as the “tournament.”
Traditionally, legal education has, in many respects, patterned its offerings and teaching focus on the demands of large law firms and, as these law firms previously assumed the lion’s share of responsibility for the practical skills training of new attorneys, law schools felt comfortable putting that training on the back burner. However, the new economic imperatives of law practice now require law schools to alter their pedagogical methods to produce graduates ready to compete in this market.
Moreover, just as the traditional law firm tournament model was becoming unsustainable even before the onset of the recession, so too were many key facets of legal education, including the neglect of skills education, as noted by prominent works like Best Practices in Legal Education and the Carnegie Report.
This article will explore whether changes to the hiring and business practices of American lawyers in the wake of the recession are cyclical in nature or represent a fundamental transformation in the legal profession. The article will then go on to discuss the aforementioned changes to legal education already under way before the economic crisis and will explain why continuing this trajectory will be necessary to an effective response by the academy to the recession.
In particular, this article advocates for a revisiting of the academy’s customs and practices regarding legal writing professors, as these educators are key to the advancement of legal pedagogy and their lack of professional parity cannot be justified, especially now when the need for their expertise is nothing if not amplified. In advocating for an improvement of the status of legal writing professors, this article will raise and defeat various arguments that have been advanced over the years as to why these professors are undeserving of equal treatment and will explore the troubling impression of gender discrimination in this regard, as the field of legal writing is overwhelmingly dominated by women. Particular emphasis is given to describing the contribution of legal writing professors to a wide spectrum of law teaching, scholarship, and service, all of which contribute to law student preparedness for practice. Finally, the article will conclude with a review of promising future trends.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 76
Date posted: September 29, 2010 ; Last revised: December 16, 2012
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