Monday, July 7, 2008
From Bill Henderson (Indiana), who is now the official blogospheric cheerleader for the initiative! As always, Professor Henderson has some interesting reflections. I assume, though, that Northwestern has not declared as its goal "to be...the #1 law school for elite legal employers" (as Professor Henderson puts it), since that would obviously be delusional. What Northwestern may do is find a way to differentiate itself from the Cornell/Duke/Georgetown/Penn/Texas cluster where it usually finds itself, and that would be a substantial achievement.
One thing that Professor Henderson's Panglossian assessment loses sight of is that the law is an intellectual profession, in which certain kinds of high-order analytical and argumentative skills go a long, long way. This is why, for example, really successful litigation partners at top firms tend to be quite smart; some may also be good at "teamwork," and various B-School gimmickry, etc., but plenty aren't. But they can think, and argue, and analyze, and write, which is, I would have thought, what good law schools teach to and model for their students. This, of course, is also why economists and philosophers have flourished in law schools, while less analytically and argumentatively rigorous "disciplines" have done less well in securing a perch in the best law schools. As long as analytical smarts is central to law as a profession--and it's hard to see how it could be otherwise and still be recognizable as law--it's really quite doubtful that B-School gimmickry, even if it imparts some useful workplace skills, will ever displace raw smarts and "thinking like a lawyer."
(And until we see the transcripts of the "focus groups" with hiring partners that Professor Henderson keeps referencing, I think we should be cautious in taking Northwestern's PR about them at face value!)
All that being said, I think experiments in legal education like Northwestern's or Washington & Lee's should be welcome, and if they succeed, they will likely inspire other schools to institute similar changes. But assessing their success, or lack thereof, will take time.