Redeeming Law Schools: How the Crisis in Legal Education Can Revitalize Our Profession and Save Its Soul

Posted: 20 Dec 2012

Date Written: December 19, 2012


Redeeming Law Schools: How the Crisis in Legal Education Can Revitalize Our Profession and Save Its Soul Scholars and critics long have documented the tug of war between the “pull” for legal education to be accepted and respected as a scholarly graduate program within the university structure and the co-existing pull for legal educators to attract, form and produce competent practicing professionals. During the past fifty years, American legal education has made efforts, albeit inconsistently, to integrate its role in the development of new legal theories and critical perspectives with its role in preparing law students to serve their clients’ needs and to fulfill their civic duties as professionals. Long before the publication of Failing Law Schools, before the filing of lawsuits over student consumer issues and fraud, and before the media’s heightened if not histrionic scrutiny of law schools, many thoughtful voices such as those contained in the CLEPR recommendations, Crampton Report, McCrate Report, Carnegie Report and CLEA’s Best Practices for Legal Education had cautioned first, that law schools had lost their way, and second, that legal education needed to become more innovative, pro-active, collaborative and intentional.

This article calls for all stakeholders and parties interested in the future of legal education and the legal profession to embrace the call for innovation, collaboration and intentionality by moving forward on three parallel tracks. First, at this very difficult and economically fragile time in legal education, this article calls for a rejection of the “quick fix” proposals which gain immediate media and business attention, and instead return to the more thoughtful, well informed and comprehensive analyses outlined in these earlier reports. In returning to the less “knee-jerk” and more thoughtful approach, it suggests however, that re-calibration is not enough and that both sides of the practice-theory tug of war have lost. Instead of a binary approach to the problem, this article argues that it was that tug of war approach itself that led to legal education’s current troubles. Using information about the new economy as documented by William D. Henderson at Indiana University Maurer School of Law, this article asks legal educators to approach the legal education crisis with the same holistic, collaborative and integrated development of skills that Professor Henderson suggests future legal problem solvers need to acquire and perfect.

Second, this article suggests that many legal educators and many of the legal profession’s elite – BigLaw lawyers, federal judges, well-established and renowned public interest organizations - behaved with the kind of elitism, greed and tunnel vision that resulted in reputational damage for all. Brian Tamahana’s book, Failing Law Schools, created a compelling although reductive (and at times incomplete or inaccurate) view of what went wrong in legal education. We need to acknowledge what is valid in Tamahana’s critique and distinguish what is not. This article argues that Tamahana’s book does not go far enough in exploring the problems with legal education. In particular, his proposal for a two-tiered system of law schools is itself steeped in the very elitism and misunderstanding of economic theory which he decries. This article argues, instead, that it was the loss of our professional identity as teachers which opened the door for both legitimate criticisms and vitriolic attacks as Ed Rubin forewarned in his prescient piece in the Vanderbilt Law Review.

Third, this article explores the phenomenon of the growth of religious institutions, “Christian” lawyers, and the “Redeeming Law” movement. During the past two decades, law schools with religious missions grew, flourished and have claimed the mantle of representing the highest aspirations of our profession. Using secular and non-religious redemptive narratives, this article explores the role secular law schools play in fleshing out the heroism of our profession and in rebutting the image of the lawyer as “soulless.” Secular law schools should accept the challenge of reclaiming our professional heritage in all its messiness and humanness and not shy away from inclusive uses of law as a secular “vocation”.

This article concludes by arguing that revitalizing the overall mission of legal education can work towards redeeming the reputation of all law schools, and serve the interests of both academic inquiry and professional development.

Keywords: Legal education reform, Law schools

Suggested Citation

Lynch, Mary A., Redeeming Law Schools: How the Crisis in Legal Education Can Revitalize Our Profession and Save Its Soul (December 19, 2012). Available at SSRN:

Mary A. Lynch (Contact Author)

Albany Law School ( email )

80 New Scotland Avenue
Albany, NY 12208
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics