No Path But One: Law School Survival in an Age of Disruptive Technology

77 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2014  

Michele R. Pistone

Villanova University School of Law

John J. Hoeffner

Attorney at Law

Date Written: 2013


In the absence of a dramatic shift in their approach to legal education, law schools are approaching the last days of Rome, a time when decline cannot be reversed and only the precise date of the final fall is to be determined. The role of marauding Germanic tribes will be played by new legal education competition whose emergence is enabled by recent technological developments. The new competition will be highly flexible, unencumbered by expensive legacy costs and, because it will reside mainly online, so scalable that no traditional, place-based law school will be immune from its impact.

There will be much to lament should history take this course. When Rome fell, Europe became worse in many ways; similarly, in some ways the quality of legal education is likely to become worse, too, should new competitors emerge triumphant. For persons who wish to save the place-based law school, it is tempting – but a great mistake – to deploy this likelihood as a talisman that might, if wielded with enough vigor, by itself preserve the status quo. To the contrary, in fact, salvation lies not in asserting the superiority of the status quo, but in recognizing its weaknesses – and then fixing them. With a striking uniformity, generations of well-considered reports have agreed that those shortcomings may be summarized as a failure to teach the majority of the skills needed to succeed as a practicing attorney.

For traditional law schools, the solution to the challenge of the internet age is, first, to migrate online whatever content can effectively be delivered there; second, to make extensive use of the physical building to deliver a premium educational experience that online providers cannot copy, one which emphasizes the practical skills that have for so long been ignored; and, third, to establish the premium experience as the new and regulated norm. Adherents of the status quo will object that it will be too difficult to follow this path. The objection presupposes that there is an easier route to survival. There is not. The management of the bookseller Borders determined that building an online presence was too difficult, and focused instead on the traditional methods of selling books. Borders now exists no more. Unlike Borders, traditional law schools still have the option – if only for a short period of time – to accept the challenges of the age. If the option is declined, the law schools‘ attachment to the comfortable ways of the past will similarly doom them.

Keywords: legal education, law schools, pedagogy, online education, online learning, legal education reform, law school history, distance learning, blended learning, technology, internet

Suggested Citation

Pistone, Michele R. and Hoeffner, John J., No Path But One: Law School Survival in an Age of Disruptive Technology (2013). Wayne Law Review, Vol. 59, 2013; Villanova Law/Public Policy Research Paper No. 2014-1007. Available at SSRN:

Michele Pistone (Contact Author)

Villanova University School of Law ( email )

299 N. Spring Mill Road
Villanova, PA 19085
United States
619-519-5286 (Phone)
619-519-5672 (Fax)

John J. Hoeffner

Attorney at Law

No Address Available

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