Recap of CALI 2010: Is legal education at a precipice?
I’m back from the CALI Conference held this year at Rutgers-Camden School of Law in New Jersey. The conference was noticeably smaller this year, likely due to the continued downturn in the economy. What has been interesting, however, is how much attention the opening plenary has received since the end of the conference. Given by Thomas R. Bruce, from LII at Cornell, the talk has been circulating around twitter and has generated considerable discussion among both law librarians and IT people, but also legal faculty.
Bruce begins his speech with a overview of the work of James Donovan (librarian at the University of Georgia) and Dick Danner at Duke and their conversation about the future role of law librarians in legal education. Donovan proposes that librarians not follow a “weak model” of library services where the interests of the patron predominate, but instead follow a “strong model’ where these pressures for service do not “detract from other obligations of the profession, [and] looks to the construction of socially useful institutions of cultural knowledge”. Danner contends that library services should become more pragmatic and seek other ways to respond to the changes brought by advances in information technology. As Bruce describes it, it is a battle between viewing the library as a “service center” or as a “monument to culture”.
In his speech, Bruce seemingly argues against both of these perspectives and criticizes that neither view contextualizes libraries into the environments where they exist. Libraries, according to Bruce, exist not as self-serving cultural institutions, nor simply as “service centers”. Rather, they exist to provide unique services to the communities they serve.
He takes this point further as a larger criticism of legal education. Bruce argues that the preservation of status and “professions” is destructive to the effective collaboration within the law school environment. He gives the example of the Bernie Madoff Scandal where non-lawyers were complaining to the SEC about suspicious behavior. These concerns were apparently dismissed because they came from non-lawyers.
This adherence to “professions” and status-seeking within legal academia has created an environment that is toxic to real innovation. Bruce makes a point that all of us working in law schools can agree with. He asserts that we all spend far too much time and effort concerned with what our peer law schools are doing rather than on how we can truly innovate legal education and improve the services we provide. I particularly liked this quote from his speech:
When it comes to institutional strategy, far too much reliance is placed on what other law schools are doing, and far too little on the particular needs and opportunities of particular institutions. I’m a great believer in information sharing — that’s why conferences like this one are worth doing. But when things reach the point where the only acceptable evidence of merit is the fact that some other law school is doing it — at that point our view of technology is a wide-screen view of the butt of the lemming in front of us.
We are quickly approaching a time where legal education will be forced to undergo dramatic reform. Economic pressures, along with a radically changing legal market, will force law schools to rethink how they provide services and innovate. Consequently, all of us will be forced to look beyond our comfortable spaces and learn from other institutions, disciplines, and professions. This will require us to forgo the constant deference to status and re-evaluate how we collaborate together.