Despite enormous social, legal, and technological shifts in the last century, the structure of legal education has remained largely unchanged. Part of the reason so little change has occurred is that the current model mostly “works”; it produces a professional class of lawyers to populate the ranks of law firms and government entities. At the same time, for decades, legal education researchers have considered it practically axiomatic that law school has room for improvement.
In this Article, I argue that the access to justice crisis—a deficit of just resolutions to justiciable civil justice problems for everyday people—compels an overdue examination of legal education’s scope and purpose. If we assume that lawyers should have a major role in solving the access to justice crisis, as opposed to simply meeting individual legal needs, law schools must prepare lawyers to serve this role. I point to three categories of improvement that centering access to justice would necessitate: teaching a greater versatility of thinking and problem-solving, imparting a broader understanding of the ecosystem of justiciable problems and lawyers’ place in it, and structuring law school to impart the cognitive cornerstones needed for successful legal practice.
Placing access to justice at the center of legal education would strengthen, not supplant, the traditional model. In addition to equipping lawyers to address everyday Americans’ justice problems, this Article’s proposals would make the legal profession nimbler and more resilient to social, economic, and technological changes, and help overcome some of the profession’s most intractable problems.
GW Paper Series
11 UC Irvine Law Review 811 (2021).