It seems that the whole world has change, especially since around September of 2008. Whenever you listen to someone talk about the legal industry, it seems that the phrase of choice is “The New Normal.” However, has legal education gotten this memo? That’s the topic of this week’s Elephant Post Question, and we have some excellent contributions. The consistent theme seems to be that everything has advanced around the edges of legal education, but the core aspects haven’t changes very much at all.

Thanks to everyone that contributed this week. Once you digest all of these perspectives, scroll on down and take a look at next week’s Elephant Post, where we take a break from all the crystal ball gazing and have a little fun.

Toby Brown

Short answer: They use e-mail now.

Long answer: In the 80’s I worked at a law school.  In the 90’s and 2000’s I worked for a state bar and had regular contact with the law schools.  Now I work at a firm that hires the products of law schools.  With that perspective in mind – I really can’t see any noticeable changes in what law schools do or what they produce.

I suppose one exception might be the use of online legal research tools – given to students for free.  However, it appears they are not taught how to do this in a cost-effective manner.  I’m just guessing at another example – assuming they use PowerPoint or some equivalent in Moot Court.

I haven’t heard of extensive use of online classes, as I have seen in many undergraduate programs.  Maybe I’m wrong there.

So bottom line: They are doing it almost the same way they were 20 years.  Except now I hear tuition is much higher.

Ted McClure
Academic Law Librarian

The 100-fold increase in the velocity of information. The volume of information has increased even more, but it is the speed at which we are confronted with information that has been truly boggling.

Thirty years ago in law school I used Westlaw over a 256 baud modem. Students learned how to use Decennial Digests, annotated statutes, the Index to Legal Periodicals, and USSCAN. Newsletters, loose-leaf services, and slip opinions were the fastest modes of transmission. Shepard’s existed in print only. Academic discussions took place in law reviews and lasted years. Students took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Twenty years ago, law schools had computers mostly for word processing. Students were learning terms and connectors for online searching but were still learning the print resources because so few practicing lawyers had online access. Newsletters, loose-leaf services, and slip opinions were still the fastest modes of transmission. Academic discussions still took place in law reviews and lasted years. Students still took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Ten years ago law schools had internet access, and card catalogs were being replaced by online versions. Web sites existed, and you might keep an eye on a few. Most practitioners were still doing legal research with print resources, so you still had to learn how to use them. But the internet was already starting to change the velocity of information: Email distribution lists were starting to replace newsletters, and you could check Westlaw or Lexis for the latest court opinions if you knew what you were looking for. Shepard’s and KeyCite were online (too expensive for practitioners, however). The first academic blawgs were bubbling up, but you needed to know were to find them. Most academic discussions still took place in law reviews. Students still took notes (or in the back row played hangman) on loose-leaf paper in binders.

Now I monitor around 200 RSS feeds for my faculty members and edit an academic blawg. I have court opinions within minutes after they are announced, opinions about the opinions within minutes after that, and can forward them to the appropriate faculty members within minutes after that. Blawg editors out there are watching most everything important and feeding it to everyone interested. I have Westlaw (and KeyCite), Lexis (and Shepard’s), FastCase, HeinOnline, SSRN, federated search, and other online sources at my desk, or I can undock my computer and use it elsewhere. Academic discussions online take hours, sometimes minutes. Students take notes (or in the back row play Farmville or complain on Facebook) on laptops and netbooks. I can monitor what my students think is important on Facebook. I can respond immediately and publicly to questions like “What’s the new normal at law schools?”

It’s a lot more fun! <shameless self-promotion> See “How to drink from a firehose without drowning“,  </shameless self-promotion>

Sarah Glassmeyer
Academic Law Librarian (and Legal Research Professor)

Twenty years ago I was a freshman in high school. Ten years ago I was a 2L.  I’ve been on the non-student side of legal education for 5 years now.  In my limited perspective, it doesn’t feel like law schools have changed much.  Still teaching doctrinal classes from the caselaw method, still ignoring and underfundign LRW programs and not really encouraging practical skills courses.  The legal acadame stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that it’s really just a glorified VoTech program.

Students, on the other hand…

Twenty years ago I remember having my parents drive  me into Cincinnati so that I could go to the public library and use their CD Rom collection of periodicals because I was obsessed with the Canadian comedy troupe “The Kids in the Hall” and that was the only way to learn more about them. Consequently, the library was a special place with unique knowledge and the visit to it was “an event.”  The idea that I could sit at home and get must of the same information on “The Internet” would have blown my mind.  So, students perceptions of physical spaces such as libraries have changed.

Ten years ago, I still took all my class notes by hand. Maybe 2 or 3 people per 75 person class had a laptop.  If they did have a laptop, they certainly weren’t on the Internet with them (playing solitare, sure…but no email, IM, or looking up the answer to the profs question).  For better or worse (and I’m not entirely sure which side of the scale it tips to), the addition of technology have changed the classroom environment.

In the past five years, social networks have arisen and people who aren’t nerds are much more locked into their computers and other technologies.  I’m sitting in my office right now watching a student with an iPod in his ears, texting on his phone, a laptop open (a Mac, no less!) with three IM windows up (plus Facebook) and…oh, yeah, an Emmanuel’s outline.  Is it actually possible to learn with all those distractions?  I’m going to say no, you need to unplug at least some of those things to adequately learn the law.  However, I don’t know that anyone has ever encouraged (read: forced) today’s law students to ever do that.  I really worry that we are churning out a generation of lawyers who have been failed by the educational system their entire lives…they’ve been taught to pass standardized tests, have limited critical thinking skills, aren’t willing to (or perhaps capable of) reading through dense pieces of text for understanding and don’t even have the tools to gain these skills.

Legal Publishing

What has changed at law schools is that the volume of graduates has increased beyond what the job market can handle. As a result, the market is flooded with graduates who are unable to pay back student loans. Most lawyers I know express similar views and all repeatedly tell friends and family members who are considering going to law school that they should not.

Danny Johnson
Law Student – 1L

Very expensive tuition is the new norm at law schools!

Elmer Masters
CALI developer

20 years ago I was just finishing my first year of law school. Since then I’ve been a faculty research assistant, a reference librarian, an electronic resources librarian, law school web developer, director of law school IT, and, for the past 8 years, chief tech guy for the Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction (CALI). In that time I’ve witnessed (and participated) in a huge shift in the infrastructure that supports legal education. At the same time, I haven’t seen the same rate of change in the way that law is taught.

New and remodeled classrooms in law schools feature smart podiums, projection and sound systems and white boards. Wireless is ubiquitous, student laptop ownership near universal, and everyone in a law school has a computer. Many law schools encourage faculty use of course management systems. Exams are taken on computers, typically student owned laptops. Students ran over 1 million CALI Lessons online last year.

While more and more faculty are using tools like blogs and wikis to enhance their teaching, in many places consistant use of PowerPoint slides in the classroom is considered a cutting edge technique. Simply the teaching of law has not kept pace with the advances in technology available to it. Teaching law is very conservative profession. The slow uptake of technology to enhance teaching is evidence of that and it is one thing that needs to change most about law schools.

So, the new normal at law schools? Lots of great technology available but not used, same old teaching methods being used.
[Image (CC) emdot]
Next Elephant Post:

What is the best lawyer television show and/or movie of all time??

I’m going out on a limb and pick a Buffy the Vampire Slayer spin-off, Angel. The whole idea of a law firm where the Senior Partners are Demons from Hell… literally. I mean, really… how can you go wrong with a story line like that??

So, dust off your pop-culture references and think about what your favorite law firm, lawyer, judge, paralegal, law librarian… just kidding, they don’t make movies about law librarians for some reason… and share it with us.