You will see elsewhere in this issue of Syllabus the announcement of a search for the next Managing Director. I will depart at the end of the 2019-2020 Council year, sometime next summer. It has been a privilege to have my job. Much has been accomplished, but the new Managing Director will find a full-to-overflowing plate of both day-to-day and longer-term important work to be done.
The regular work of the Council in recent years has been driven by the impact of the recession on legal education and profound changes in both the legal profession and higher education sectors. The changes continue. Indeed, we are closer to the beginning, not the end, of the change cycle. We might prefer to catch our breath, digest what has been done, and assess next steps; but the need for change persists and there is no time to waste – we will be multi-tasking for the foreseeable future.
Among the big picture, long-term matters to be tackled is how the ABA law school accreditation process can be improved to better assure, indeed advance, the quality of the education that law schools deliver to their students while, at the same time, broadening access to legal education and taking steps to assure that we are producing graduates who will help build a more inclusive, fair, and just legal system. The process must intentionally shift its focus to more clearly place students, the quality of learning, and meaningful access as the core of what we do and how we do it. What more should the Standards require to provide that focus? What could or should be stripped from the Standards, eliminating what is superfluous to these central organizing themes? Our current Standards and practices were built for a different time, a different legal profession, and a different cohort of students. At the end of the day, tweaking the current Standards may not be sufficient or wise. Perhaps a new approach is needed.
A significant piece of what the future will bring is fundamental change in the legal services marketplace where almost all law graduates will spend their careers. That change may be fast or slow, but it is already happening and inevitable. The demand for persons educated in the law who can work in the legal services industry without the need for a full J.D. degree, or at least the cost/debt that may be associated with earning that degree, is increasing. There are ways to restructure J.D. programs to reduce cost and shorten the time to degree. But, the demand across so many sectors of our economy is for education and credentials targeted to the specific work that needs to be done. The legal services sector, as is already apparent, is not immune to such demands. Law schools can and should play a leadership role in helping the profession and the legal services sector adapt. How should the accreditation process itself adapt so it does not interfere with (at least) and (even better) support law schools who seek to play a leadership role in this evolution?
The current Council year concludes with the adjournment of the ABA House of Delegates meeting on August 13. Diane Bosse, a New York lawyer, will be the new Council chair. I look forward to working with her. Jeff Lewis, Dean Emeritus and Professor at St. Louis University School of Law, will finish his term as Council chair. It has been a real pleasure for me (and for Jeff, too, I hope) to have had the opportunity to work closely together this past year. Jeff met me at the airport in Gainesville, Florida now many decades ago, when he was on the hiring committee at the University of Florida College of Law and I was interviewing for a job there. We were colleagues at UF for 19 years; I was his Associate Dean for six of them. Though we do not see eye-to-eye on everything and our careers have taken us to different places, we remain close friends. It was a delightful serendipity to find ourselves back together this past year, working closely together again. Thanks, Jeff, for your service and your friendship.