Monterey College of Law and its accredited branch campus San Luis Obispo College of Law are not typical law schools. As part-time evening programs taught by respected local lawyers and judges, the schools serve both traditional college students and non-traditional working adults. Our law schools also feature small evening classes that allow students to continue to work while they attend law school, eliminating the need for financially crippling student debt that is the current norm for most traditional large law schools.
In a recent article published in Inside Higher Education, authors Michele Pistone and Michael Horn summarize the crisis in legal education that has traditional ABA law schools facing declining enrollment, rising tuition costs, and concern about the employability of future J.D. graduates. Their research study “Disrupting Law School: How Disruptive Innovation Will Revolutionize the Legal World” identifies what they foresee is the disruption of the traditional business model for legal services that is lessening the need for lawyers. The question is how will these changes affect local California accredited law schools such as MCL and SLOCL?
Pistone and Horn believe there are three disruptors changing the legal profession: 1) Services such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer that provide inexpensive, standardized legal products that are easily accessible to non-lawyers; 2) Interactive, computerized software such as ROSS and Practical Law Company that may replace entire categories of legal work traditionally provided by young associate lawyers; and 3) Loosening the monopoly on legal services by allowing the equivalent of legal nurse practitioners, called Limited License Legal Technicians (LLLT), to be licensed and to practice independently from lawyers or law offices.
The authors suggest that there are four possible solutions that law schools should consider to address these challenges to the legal profession: 1) Operate separate and apart from traditional university settings that are threatened by change and unwilling to respond to industry needs; 2) Innovate with online learning technology to improve educational quality; 3) Focus on experiential learning courses, live-client clinics, simulations, research and writing, moot court and trial advocacy exercises, and field placements; and 4) Build new, non-J.D. degree programs that specialize in training students for careers that combine elements from law, business, and government.
If I didn’t know better, I would think that the authors were specifically talking about MCL and SLOCL. Without going into too much detail, our independent non-profit law school has operated successfully without faculty tenure or large administrative overhead for more than 44 years. We recently launched a pilot program to utilize technology and on-line tools to supplement our traditional classroom curriculum. We have the most extensive clinical program, legal writing program, and moot court program of any of the California Accredited Law Schools (CALS), and we were the first CALS to develop and offer a 36-unit Master of Legal Studies degree program for students who want to study law, but not pursue a J.D. degree and licensure.
At a time when traditional ABA law school graduates cannot afford to practice law in many rural communities, public sector law jobs, or non-profit legal service agencies . . . by keeping our tuition at a reasonable rate and providing our students the opportunity to work while attending law school . . . MCL and SLOCL graduates are there to fill the growing justice gap in our communities.
It appears that we are well ahead of the traditional ABA law schools in addressing the challenges facing legal education and our profession.
For more information about Monterey College of Law and San Luis Obispo College of Law, please go to www.montereylaw.edu or www.slolaw.org.