The CBA Futures Initiative took to the Twitterverse Tuesday night to talk about legal education.
What was supposed to be a half-hour discussion about objectives and obstacles turned into more than two hours of enthusiastic participation from across the country. Mitch Kowalski summed up the responses about 75 minutes in: “So we’ve seen tuition, diversity, maturity, practicality, length of study are issues. Solutions?”
Karen Dyck summed up the legal profession’s response to these issues so far with an emoticon wink: “Don’t change a thing.”
A lot of the early discussion focused on high and rising tuition costs, in response to the question from moderator Omar Ha-Redeye, “Is the investment of time and money in law school justifiable if the student does not intend to become a lawyer?”
Dyck noted that a law degree opens doors and “creates opportunities for innovators,” and as such is worth the price, but Monica Goyal disagreed. “Absolutely not. You can get that same knowledge in much less expensive ways.”
With legal tuitions so high, graduates feel like they have no choice but to go to big firms in the cities where they can be guaranteed the kind of income to work off the debt, respondents suggested. It also leaves them fewer options if they want to pursue a career outside of the law – which is a concern when there is a shortage of articling positions, let alone actual jobs.
“I would guess that high student debt may dissuade grads from starting their own practice,” Corinne Boudreau, a solo practitioner in Halifax, said.
Analea Wayne noted high tuitions change the demographics of those who can go to law school. “We want brilliant, altruistic, dedicated minds who come from diverse backgrounds,” she said.
“The cost of a legal education should not bar potentially brilliant legal minds.”
From there the chat turned to just what that knowledge should comprise, with most agreeing that schools need to focus more on practical skills.
In-house lawyer Patricia Romanovici says law schools are “definitely not” the only place to get legal training. “Law school could pair up with business and other faculties to provide complementary training to law courses,” she wrote.
James Wegener, who joined the conversation from Kamloops, where he is a student at Thomson Rivers University Faculty of Law, said “the problem is finding balance between substantial knowledge and practical skills. Solution requires innovation and experimentation.”
For his part, he’d like to see hands-on learning, dispute resolution, courtroom experience, in-firm experience and business experience as part of his overall legal education.
“Are law schools ready to take the leap?” he asks. “Will the legal community allow it? Will they help?”
Good questions. Tune in to #cbafutureschat again next week for more great discussion.