Conference addresses future of legal education

by Grace Renshaw
The panel for the Future of Legal Education conference

Law professor and Vanderbilt Provost Nick Zeppos moderated a panel that included Dean Edward Rubin, Carrie Menkel-Meadow of Georgetown Law Center and Todd Rakoff of Harvard Law School at a conference addressing the future of legal education at the law school April 29.

The first year of Vanderbilt Law School's initiative to reinvent legal education under the leadership of Dean Edward L. Rubin culminated in a two-day conference held at the law school April 28 and 29, which featured leading legal scholars from the United States and Canada.

Yale professor Robert Gordon discussed the case-method developed by Harvard Law Dean C.C. Langdell in the late 1800s, while John Henry Schlegel of SUNY Buffalo emphasized the difficulties with reforming the legal education "template" handed down by Langdell. Robert Cooter of Berkeley explored the rise of the modern law and economics movement.

Mark West of the University of Michigan offered a comparative perspective by analyzing radical reforms of Japanese legal education. University of Toronto professor Ernest Weinrib cautioned that reform aimed at creating a more interdisciplinary approach must leave room for rather than replace law. Wayne Hyatt, '67 (VU '64), who heads Atlanta-based Hyatt & Stubblefield, emphasized the need for modern legal education to prepare students for the realities of legal practice.

Columbia Professor Geraldine Downey, Columbia doctoral student Bonita London, Susan Sturm of Columbia Law School and Elizabeth Mertz of the University of Wisconsin each identified ways in which standard legal education risks alienating students or suppressing points of view.

The conference culminated with a panel addressing ways in which law schools could better prepare lawyers to practice in an increasingly complex legal environment, moderated by Provost Nick Zeppos. Dean Rubin's presentation, "Legal Education in the 21st Century," critiqued the traditional model of legal education and provided a vision for a revised first-year legal curriculum as well as centers that allow second- and third-year students to focus on specific subject areas.

In his concluding remarks, Chancellor Gordon Gee emphasized that in the future, law schools should play an integral role at their universities by connecting various disciplines. "No longer can we afford to be a series of colleges connected by a heating plant and plumbing lines," Gee said. The Chancellor also heralded Dean Rubin's vision as one that would enable the law school to "take an intellectual leadership role at this university."