Highlights of the June 2013 Contra Costa Lawyer edition include articles about current and future legal education practices, law degrees and more.
Law school education has seen significant changes over the last several years due to student’s expectations and needs, and the demands of the profession, clients and employers. Those expectations, needs and demands will continue to push legal educators to become more creative in the subject matter that they provide to students of the law, in the ways that such education is delivered to better prepare future lawyers to enter the profession, and to expand their legal education during their professional careers.
Several months ago, the board of directors of the Contra Costa County Bar Association decided to conduct a survey to make sure that it was in touch with the needs and desires of our membership. Historically, the CCCBA has conducted such a survey approximately every three years. The survey was conducted in April and the results are now in.
Since this issue is about the future of legal education, it was decided to ask about the future of the subject directly, by inquiring of today’s law students. The following thoughts are courtesy of several students at Contra Costa’s JFK University College of Law.
John F. Kennedy University’s clinic program has the two-fold mission of providing an in depth education to students while offering essential legal help to underserved members of the community. The students take responsibility for all aspects of the cases, including interviewing clients, conducting factual investigations and legal research, drafting pleadings and motions, conducting discovery and also, under the State Bar “practical training of law student ” rules, students appear in court.
More than five years ago, the JFK law faculty determined that the traditional doctrinal law curriculum was not sufficient to meet the educational needs of its students. Courses designed to provide training in practical lawyering skills throughout the course of study have been added to the curriculum.
Courses are taught using asynchronous electronic education, which means that the students access the course lectures on the Web through a link provided by the school. There are different applications that can be used to support different models of online learning. The asynchronous method utilizes tools such as threaded discussion boards, email, small group discussions and chat rooms, which allow users to participate at their convenience. This means that class attendance at a set time is not required. Instead, students can learn anytime and anywhere they have access to a computer and the Internet. Attendance is monitored by the students’ participation on the threaded discussion board.
Numerous professional careers are enhanced by legal education. The way law students are trained to write, research, analyze, articulate an argument and comprehend massive amounts of information lends itself to careers in marketing, high-level management, science, economic development, data analysis and technical careers. Community associations, social work organizations, human services departments, government social agencies, employment assistance offices, city planning commissions and family services groups can also greatly benefit from employees with legal expertise.
The need to reform our legal services delivery systems in order to provide better access to low income Americans is a significant challenge. California continues to be on the cutting edge in meeting that challenge by embracing paralegals in the delivery of these services. While California is one of the first and only states to legislate the definition and work of paralegals, there are no teeth to this legislation because no regulatory or supervisory body has been established. Whether to regulate and/or license paralegals has been debated since the inception of the profession.
The current economic downturn in the legal profession poses many dangers for law firms, to be sure. One of those oft-overlooked dangers is overworking and mistreating paralegals in order to meet the bottom line. Between May 2009 and May 2010, the legal sector lost 22,220 jobs, most of them paralegals and younger associates. The legal industry still hasn’t replaced many of those positions, and as a result, they are doling out greater amounts of work—and work of higher difficulty—onto their paralegals.
Still plenty of lawyers moving around, forming new law firms, leaving partnerships, finding new office space—but few actually retiring. I am often asked: “When are you retiring?” You heard it here—not for a long while.
I wish I had learned more concrete practical things in law school. For example, in Civil Procedure, I would have liked to have at least seen an example of a pleading or a discovery request …
Do you want to be a leader within our legal community as a Director on the Contra Costa County Bar Association Board? Directors are selected for their experience and personal attributes. Active participation on a CCCBA committee or section leadership is a plus.