Law School Lunch Lectures – Get a feeling for law school!

Professor Henderson Lecture at Illinois College of Law- 9/19/12

I hope that any pre-law students who came to this lecture had a great time (and enjoyed the free lunch afterwards with so many of the U of I’s best professors, deans, and students!)  Attending these lectures is a great way to get a feeling for what law school is like, and to ponder legal questions that are presented.  I strongly encourage you not only to find a day that you can make it here on our campus – but to attend a lunch lecture at every one of your campus visits.  Most attendees don’t take notes, but I decided to type up lecture notes so that you could see what one type of lecture notes look like after being heavily influenced by law school note-taking.  I hope they are clear enough to make sense of the topic, and maybe even elicit thought or comment from you!  I’ll be sure to post future lunch lectures and encourage pre-law students to attend the ones that sound especially interesting and relevant.  Jamie and I will be at the Helen Gunnarsson Seminar tomorrow at the law school at 12:00 if you are interested in attending.  Hope to see you there!

 

 Human Capital Accounting for Lawyers

The issue addressed by Professor Henderson’s lecture is that the economic rules of law practice and legal education are now different due to globalization.  He broadly summarized this with the phrase “Asia, Automation, and Abundance.”  Before diving into any specifics in legal education or the flaws that are a part of the system that was established pre-globalization, he took the time to lay out the basis for his theories and the terminologies and influences that guided this development.

Human Capital Accounting (HCA) is a systematic gathering of facts, assigning significance to those facts, and then using the results to make better decisions.  There is a constant assessment of whether the added value of “better decisions” exceeds the cost of the decision-making process.  Professor Henderson cites C.F. Braun’s insights from earlier in the 20th century, his belief in sharing the “why” or the decision-making process with the people implementing those decisions, and the necessary “tooling” or “white collar tools” that were developed to create a successful field.  All this to say that the same successes can be found if we “retool” and modernize the profession in practice and in the legal preparation law schools provide.

Professor Henderson had a simple framework for the rest of his lecture:

1)       Articulate Goals (modernize legal education / practice)

2)      Present estimated costs and estimation of benefits that move toward that goal.

3)      Compare costs and benefits and make decisions.

 

To modernize the education and practice, law schools need to move away from a model that is built on creating lawyers for artisan trades and private practices that was established post WWII.  With increased access to legal information, what clients now have are sophisticated legal needs that require non-traditional legal services.  So there is not a clear economic rationale to train lawyers.  The needed human capital (HC) is an ability to collaborate over a complex domain of knowledge including: information technology, systems engineering, fianance, marketing, project management, and law.  The focus in law school should be communication and feedback around this diverse set of elements.  Here Prof. Henderson provided anecdotal evidence from the legal classes he is teaching and the peculiar class design that allowed him to see that predictors of good and successful group work was predicated on communication – useful feedback and an opportunity to understand and listen.

In assessing the costs of this type of system, it became clear that the hidden costs are the emotional costs in shifting to such a communication based model of legal education.  No specific numbers were given to analyze the costs of implementing what he coined as a “competency based curriculm with intensive feedback.”  He did however point to the fact that some states, like Michigan, have integrated competency models into their government programming.  Anyone can get an idea of what a competency model looks like by viewing this model at:  http://www.michigan.gov/documents/AG_BARS_14717_7.pdf

In making the decision to leap forward in legal education to using competency models focused on the domain of knowledge and skills in a modern world, Professor Henderson challenged law schools to step outside the prescribed curriculum and meet these modern needs.  Responding to questions about ABA standards and the “slowness” of change, he left with an explicit call to universities to be bold and willing to make these changes – to which Dean Smith jokingly responded with respect for the advice and a disclaimer that Professor Henderson does not represent legal counsel for the law school 😉

In all, I had mixed feelings about the lecture.  On one hand, I enjoyed hearing how successful legal minds contemplate the need for legal education reform – and on the other hand I listen as an educator (I taught for four years) who finds so much of what is said as glaringly obvious and inadequate in terms of actually leading to actual change.  What will lead to change I then ask?  I suppose a continued effort by scholars and practitioners like Henderson to spread this philosophy will contribute to that change.  Will a free market speak to it?  Can the US continue to be the leading authority?  These are huge questions and are always debatable – and if you have a thought please comment or stop in to chat!

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