A New Era in Legal Education

Message From The Dean

During the entire time that I have been dean of the great law school at Pepperdine University, I have listened to a steady drumbeat of criticism of legal education. As any responsible dean must, I have followed with rapt attention these prognostications of doom for law schools as we know them. My reactions have fluctuated between puzzlement, sympathy, dread, and skepticism. But now, due to the rather advanced stage of my career, the diversity of my experiences in the legal profession, or perhaps simply my senior citizen status, I have emerged into a new state of understanding regarding this national conversation.

Deanell Reece TachaAt many points in history, educational systems have had to adapt to new demands in the society around them, to changing economies and demographics, and to the pressures of inevitable change in this ever-changing world. In my view, the current discussion about legal education is no different. The need for brevity in this letter constrains my ability to outline here the outside influences that drive the discussion about legal education, but suffice it to say that the legal profession itself is undergoing a rapid change: student debt throughout higher education has reached intolerable levels spurred by non-sustainable government loan policies; a serious disconnect has opened between society’s legal needs and the employment expectations of new graduates; anachronistic self-policing mechanisms within education and the legal profession are detracting from their credibility and effectiveness; great divides now exist between academic law and practicing lawyers and judges–the list goes on and on.

There remains for me, however, one enduring truth. Civilized society requires–nay, is built upon–well-trained lawyers. The rule of law is the bedrock of our system of government and the only hope for a humane future. Historically and into the distant future, it will be the lawyers who serve as the sentinels protecting the essential but oh-so-fragile foundation upon which this nation stands. We have only to look with horror at the places in the world where the rule of law has broken down to answer the question, “Is a good legal education worth it?” A legal education—as with all effective education—transmits information and knowledge, but it also does far, far more than that. It teaches lawyers to problem-solve for people and institutions; it trains lawyers to settle disputes in civilized, nonviolent ways; it models various forms of dispute resolution, some in court and some in the host of ways that lawyers reframe arguments and try to bring parties to settlement; it inculcates a professional ethic that calls lawyers to serve and advocate for those who lack the resources or ability to advocate for themselves; it forms the spokespersons for ordered liberty; and it provides the facilitators for societal adaptation and change. Nothing in all of today’s rhetoric about the value of a legal education has ever been spoken in attempt to suggest that this nation and world will not always need these essential abilities. Yet the cacophony has still obfuscated this central truth. Yes, legal education has some adapting and responding to do, but we must carry on the business of attracting and educating new generations of lawyers who will be the Thomas Jeffersons, Abraham Lincolns, Thurgood Marshalls, and Sandra Day O’Connors for our children’s and grandchildren’s generations.

The Pepperdine University School of Law is adapting rapidly to the calls for reform and change in legal education. Our duty as stewards of this great law school is to preserve those strengths upon which the law school was built, while at the same time, to find innovative and creative ways to respond to student needs and the demands of the legal profession for the future. We are deeply engaged in both of these endeavors. This year we have added to the faculty several outstanding new faculty members who add both doctrinal strength and an impressive array of experiential capabilities (meet them on page 9). Our new director of clinical education, Jeff Baker, has a strong background in practice and in clinical education and is already embarked on a rigorous and creative re-invention of the clinical and experiential opportunities for our students. The Preceptor Program and a newly formed Pepperdine Law School-related Inn of Court are pairing our students in unprecedented ways with practicing lawyers and judges. A required Professionalism course for first-year students is introducing them to professional expectations and opportunities from the beginning of their law school experience. The activities and services of the career development office are reflecting and responding to the radical changes in the legal employment market. The faculty has made significant curricular changes to build more flexibility into students’ 2L and 3L years, providing opportunities for the increasingly important externships and internships that offer rich professional experiences which prepare new lawyers for a more seamless transition into their professional careers. We also adopted an accelerated option that allows students to complete both a JD and a certificate in dispute resolution in two calendar years. These are but a few examples of the rigorous efforts in which this law school is engaging to respond to the changing demands of society and the attendant calls for reform in legal education. We are hard at work again this year, considering other new ways to serve students and continue the trajectory of excellence that characterizes the Pepperdine University School of Law.

While we are responding to the calls for change and the needs of the profession, we have been and must continue to be vigilantly attentive to Pepperdine’s historic strengths. We are deeply committed to remaining student-centered and mission- driven. We place the highest priority on making sure that a Pepperdine legal education is provided against the backdrop of the highest ethical standards, the Christian values of our roots, and the finest ideals of the legal profession. It is for all these reasons that I can say to any who are questioning the value of law school, a Pepperdine legal education is worth it.

In service,

Deanell Tacha

Duane and Kelly Roberts Dean and Professor of Law

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