Chuck Otey’s Pro Bono Barrister for Nov. 25
Guest Columnist Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard Responds to New York Times Editorial on Law Schools
(Columnist’s note: Recently, The New York Times ran an editorial that assumed that law schools were responsible for the huge debts facing graduates. The Times used a broad brush in forming its analysis and many in the legal profession believed that the Times was playing to the anti-lawyer feelings that are regularly stoked by the daily press and other media.
Never one to stand aside when the brickbats are flying, Brooklyn Law School Dean Nick Allard fashioned a response that has been well received among law school administrators and throughout the profession. Since the mission of “Pro Bono Barrister” for the past 15 years has been to “tell about the good that lawyers do,” we are pleased to present his timely and cogent message below.)
While The New York Times editorial of Sunday, Oct. 25 — “The Law School Debt Crisis” — weighed in primarily on the ongoing student loan debate, it is symptomatic of a much broader and urgent challenge because it underscores and extends the continuing negative drum beat that is demeaning law schools, law students and the entire profession.
The time has come for the legal community — and law schools in particular — to press the reset button on the reputation of our profession. As deans, we should not stand silent as those with biases and outdated or inaccurate information recycle myths and tired, predictable versions of their “wisdom” about our profession, law schools and the quality of newly minted lawyers. Over and over again.
The overarching challenge facing lawyers and the law school community across the country is that there is virtually no effective public counterweight to offset the worn perceptions repeated by high-visibility media and others. We must, together, come to the defense of the value of law and lawyers, and make the compelling case for lawyers’ contribution to society in general and America’s national experiment in democracy, in particular. We need to highlight how valuable lawyers are to our nation’s leadership around the world, and the important role our law schools play in developing lawyers that will provide the legal expertise necessary to assure our nation’s stability in the future.
As we seek to attract the next generations of practitioners, we should remember to keep front and center the relevancy of our central message and vision: the value of our profession in these absolutely essential pursuits.
Regrettably, lawyers have too often allowed our fellow citizens to forget the essential contributions of lawyers to government, society and to our commercial enterprises. Regrettably, legal educators in particular have not been sufficiently and effectively vocal about the most salient aspect of our profession’s role in society going forward — focusing on the new, critical roles lawyers will play in a global marketplace, and confronting the challenges of disruptive technologies, borderless geopolitical entities, even more splintered competing interests and enduring threats to freedom and equal rights.
Into this vacuum have stepped critics, who for whatever reason are seeking to define our profession and our training in ways that neither reflect the realities nor in ways that we can control.
Let’s stop the hand-wringing, whining and the recycling of misperceptions. Let’s instead call attention to the positive value of our profession and the contribution we, our colleagues and our students make. Let’s challenge ourselves and our institutions to do better. We could begin by focusing our energy on the following imperatives and begin the process of recalibrating America’s thinking about lawyers:
• Tomorrow’s lawyers must be seen as agents and facilitators of change within American and around the world;
• The legal enterprise must be seen as the engine that can stimulate innovation, the economy and international well being;
• We must do all we can to change the perception of lawyers from that of disruptors who cause commercial and social stagnation to navigators who foster compromise and progress;
• We must train our students to be both foundation builders and architects for a dynamic social system and market economy;
• Lawyers must be viewed as crusaders for peace, individual freedom, market-driven economies and global stability;
• Lawyers must be trained to be integral components of tomorrow’s global society.
Entry into the legal profession must be justifiably understood to be a noble pursuit with new relevance for the 21st century. We must rebrand American lawyers and re-engineer the perceptions of how lawyers are trained if we are to change the flawed projections of our profession by others. We must advocate for more, not fewer, of a new breed of 21st-century attorneys who will continue to perform in new ways the essential functions of American society: bridging divides, finding solutions, breaking gridlock, enabling commerce, freeing innovation and forging speedier consensus on a range of commercial, legal, policy, regulatory and social issues among all the competitive interests, not just in the U.S., but around the world.
Many innovative and forward-looking law schools already have adapted their curricula to enable new lawyers to be optimally prepared to meet these imperatives.
We are the ones who can help renew our country. We are the ones who can help make it less splintered, less litigious and more solutions oriented. If not us, then who? What choice do we have? Amidst transformative societal change, we need more than ever what lawyers do: help clarify and move issues forward to resolution through analysis, advice and advocacy. This is work lawyers, not lay people or computers, must do. It is work worthy of the time, energy and money our students invest in earning their law degree.
Today, we must, and can, do better making our case in the affirmative. I look forward to hearing and watching you make the case.
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