A convergence of inward and outward-looking processes in US law schools creates both risk and potential reward in the development of legal education. How each law faculty succeeds or fails in coordinating those processes will affect not just US law schools, but legal education across the globe. These processes should not produce changes without proper consideration of their impact on developments outside the United States. Otherwise the result may be both the abdication of US leadership in legal education and a significant negative impact on the way in which US legal education can be and has been a catalyst for positive change in transition countries.
The current fancy of US legal education is demonstrated in a myriad of changes to a curriculum that has been the foundation of the development of legal minds for more than a century. Law schools find themselves pressed to keep up with the crowd by adding international courses to the first year curriculum, by creating curricular "pathways" with courses designed to add sequential layers of "skills" and by reconfiguring curricular focus in order to prove responsive to the need to spin out graduates ready to practice law without further training. What was taught as "Civil Procedure" became taught as "Legal Process" in order to consider more than just dispute resolution in courts and now becomes "Legislation/Regulation/Cases" so our course list will advertise that we really do understand all about how law is made.
This process allows faculty committees to spend large amounts of time exchanging resident legal curriculum "experts" (i.e. administrators and committee chairs at law schools that have made changes to the time-worn curriculum), and drafting proposals to be subjected to endless debate at faculty meetings. Like much in academic life, it is a wonderful academic experience. And we don't know how far it will go--or whether it will take us up the mountain or off the cliff.
As an observer of this process from the inside, I find myself looking not to other US law schools for examples of how mine should change, but to law schools around the globe--especially in transition countries--for examples of what we should consider before we engage in such change. I am persuaded that we should evaluate what we do in US law schools not only by the impact we have on our graduates who will practice law in the United States, but also by the impact we have on the rest of the world and, in particular, on transition countries. The resulting standard is not how far US legal education takes the US student, but rather how far US legal education takes the world.
Looking Outward During Inward Change
Such an outward focus for US legal education offers a number of benefits. First, it addresses the global reality of personal, social, and economic (and thus legal) relationships. Second, as described below, an outward focus tests the benefits to US law students through their direct involvement in an educational process that (interestingly, like traditional US legal education) exposes...