Honorable Scott Bales
Chief Justice (Retired)
Arizona Supreme Court
2020-2021 Council Chair
Each year the ABA Journal and the ABA Center for Innovation identify Legal Rebels who are leading change in the legal profession and the justice system. Reading about the pathbreakers is always interesting, but this year’s class merits special attention from Section members and others involved in legal education.
Two members of the Section’s Council are among the recently announced 2021 Legal Rebels. Michigan Chief Justice Mary Bridge McCormack, who formerly was a faculty member at the University of Michigan’s Law School, was recognized for effectively leading her state’s court system to shift to virtual proceedings in the face of the pandemic. Council member Dave Byers, director of the Administrative Office of the Arizona Courts, was named along with Arizona Vice-Chief Justice Ann Scott Timmer for their work on a task force that successfully recommended several reforms in the regulation of the delivery of legal services, including the allowance of nonlawyer ownership of law firms.
This year’s ten “rebels” comprise many, like Chief Justice McCormack, who are helping courts transition to new ways of doing business, including housing lawyer Sateesh Nori, Louisiana Judge Scott Schlegel, and Virginia Judge John Tran. The remaining honorees – like Dave Byers and Justice Timmer – have been leading in promoting innovation in the delivery of legal services: Utah Justice Constandinos "Deno" Himonas and former Utah State Bar President John Lund for developing the first ever “regulatory sandbox” to open the legal market to new providers and innovation; Jayne Reardon, executive director of the Illinois’ Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, who also serves on an Illinois task force and has been a national voice for legal innovation and professionalism; and Quinten Steenhuis, who has used his expertise in computer programming and law to expand access to justice, such as through designing smartphone friendly versions of self-help information and court forms.
In commending the efforts by the 2021 Legal Rebels, we should also think about their implications for legal education. Over the last year, law schools – like court systems – have unexpectedly had to adapt to virtual operations. This not only has posed challenges for students, faculty, and administrators, but also has prompted both temporary adjustments in the Council’s application of the Standards concerning distance learning and an on-going assessment of longer-term changes. Of course, many of the operational changes that courts have adopted will not – and should not – be abandoned after the pandemic. Law schools will similarly need to assess changes going forward in terms of how they provide instruction and how their academic programs can prepare their graduates for practice in law offices and courts that are operating very differently than just a year ago.
Regulatory reform will not stop with the pioneering efforts of Utah and Arizona. Many other states are considering changes to allow new legal services providers or to relax restrictions on nonlawyer ownership of law firms. Such changes could impact the education of both J.D. students and non-J.D. law students. Notably, while the enrollment of 1L J.D. students has remained stable over the last few years at around 38,000, the number of non-J.D. students grew by about 15% to reach 21,292 last year. As more states allows some kinds of practice by non-lawyers (such as the limited license practitioners in Utah or the legal paraprofessionals in Arizona), law schools will need to consider whether to tailor non-J.D. programs to satisfy a state’s educational requirements for these new providers. The changes will also force a reassessment of the Council’s role regarding non-J.D. programs, which to date has focused solely on assuring that they do not negatively impact a school’s J.D. program. More generally, law schools will need to prepare their students – whether in J.D. programs or otherwise – for careers in settings that will continue to shift due to changes in technology, regulatory structures, and the economy.
Many in law schools across the country are assessing these issues and identifying better paths forward for legal education. I look forward to seeing their efforts recognized in future classes of Legal Rebels.