Is Legal Education a Zombie?

Lately, we have talked about Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Prince Charming, fairy godmothers, aristocrats, wicked witches, mutant children, beasts, step-sisters, cooks, doctors, firefighters, and boy scouts. (Note several different links.)  Now zombies, black holes, frogs, and more junior royalty.


My colleague, Rafael Gely, recently sent an email to folks in our Center about the work of Professor Ray Worthy Campbell of the Peking University School of Transnational Law. Ray has written several articles about legal education, including The End of Law Schools.


The title may be a bit misleading as it conjures images of law schools collapsing into a black hole. Actually, he argues that law-schools-as-we-know-them need to end and be transformed into “schools of legal professions” to better satisfy society’s needs.


The article begins by reviewing the parallel development of legal practice and legal education in the US relating to Langdell’s familiar educational model. Ray writes that both the legal profession and legal education are struggling with the 2008 economic crisis and other challenges. He writes,


at least in the typical required curriculum, [law students] haven’t been taught how to negotiate, they haven’t been taught how to build teams or work within organizations, and they haven’t been taught how to work with clients. They don’t learn project management techniques and wouldn’t know how to discuss modern information management technologies. It would be considered déclassé at most schools to suggest that they should learn how to market themselves, either within the organizations they will join or to the general public. They haven’t been shown how to build a balanced life in the law, one where they can achieve professional excellence and yet have a satisfying personal life. In short, they haven’t been taught how to ‘think like a lawyer’ in many of the core areas that define successful lawyers today, and will increasingly define them tomorrow.


Ray notes that there are new kinds of service providers using people with some legal knowledge but that don’t require people with full-fledged law degrees. Such professionals and para-professionals include but are not limited to those dealing with compliance, legal process management, e-discovery, and mediation. He argues that, considering societal needs, law schools should provide training and scholarship for all legal service occupations (not just traditional lawyers) and produce research about “law as experienced by the ‘end user,’” among other things.


This brief summary doesn’t do justice to the rich discussion in the article, which people in the DR community should find of interest. So when you can’t read one more exam and are ready to procrastinate from grading for a while, you might take a look.


Ray refers to law schools as “zombies” and makes the following provocative observation:


The persistence of the Langdellian model has not been for lack of thoughtful critiques and rational reform proposals. Thoughtful articles and books have been written; blue ribbon panels have come and gone. Nonetheless, like a zombie staggering on despite body blow after body blow, American law schools continue to lurch forward with a core educational vision that is readily recognized as Langdell’s own.


Are we working in zombie institutions? Have we become zombies ourselves? (I’m looking at you, deans – though really all of us.) Or, as we would like to believe, are we zombie-busters? Most of us would like to see the transformation of zombies from frogs into beautiful princes and princesses (to mix metaphors a tad). Certainly there have been changes such as the incorporation of some clinical and DR instruction.


But is the zombie fundamentally the same, as Ray suggests? Will the zombie mindset and the forces of inertia continue to dominate legal education so that this transformation idea is just a fairy tale that’s never gonna come true? Or will there be a happy ending to this story?


What do you think? Email me. You never write. You never call.



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