Donald Tobin, professor of law and former Dean of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law (Maryland Carey Law), believes that “law is a way to change the world.” Tobin and Dean Ronald Weich of the University of Baltimore School of Law (UBLaw) discussed their hopes and plans for the future of law schools during an informal presentation at the MSBA’s Professional Excursion in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on February 21. Weich, who came to deanship after a career practicing law, finds the job is a great way to pass everything he has learned to the next generation of attorneys.
Tobin and Weich feel strongly that their law schools need to be an important part of the Baltimore community where they are located. Beyond educating students in the law, Tobin noted that law schools also need to consider how to impress upon students the importance of engaging with people to make the world a better place. He recalled that he took the helm at Maryland Carey Law just before the death of Freddie Gray and its immense consequences for the city; he recognized early on that “how we respond to this will really define us as a law school.”
Weich agreed that both law schools share an ethos for community involvement and diversity. He noted that, prior to Tobin’s tenure as dean, UBLaw was always in the heart of the legal community, in Baltimore and beyond, while UMD was seen as more national. Now, both schools are very involved in the legal community and work together in many ways. “For example,” Weich quipped, “Donald steals my professors.”
Weich and Tobin spent time discussing trends in legal education, societal changes impacting young attorneys, and the future of standardized testing.
Changes in Legal Education
When asked how the law school experience today differs for students compared to those in previous generations, the speakers agreed that education today is much more experiential.
Today’s students work in clinics, summer experience internships and clerkships, and even as apprentices.
According to Tobin, it’s a tall order providing the necessary foundation in a rather short period of time. “We only have three years . . . [students] really have to understand the law and the foundation.” This foundation, though, must be combined with the practicalities of being a lawyer. “I can teach you to find the courthouse on Google in about 20 seconds,” he said, comparing this kind of basic knowledge to “the things we really provide value in.”
On a Lack of Professionalism
In response to an audience question, Weich and Tobin discussed some concerning changes that they see in their students and that legal professionals see in new lawyers. When an audience member noted that student law interns don’t seem to take their positions seriously enough, Tobin agreed that “there is something going on with … soft skills and I’m not sure why.” Weich questioned whether the fact that “so much of our lives is on a screen and not in person” has somehow stunted professional skills. Neither had the answer, but both recognized the real need to reinforce to law students that they are, in fact, going to be lawyers who need to understand what it means to be a professional.
The Future of Law School Admissions
A discussion of standardized testing and its role in admitting future lawyers to law school was a natural topic for the two academics. Despite recent calls for the elimination of the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), the American Bar Association recently struck down the elimination for the second time in six years.
Weich and Tobin recognized a broader trend away from standardized tests; in fact, UBLaw allows students to submit a GRE score rather than an LSAT score. Weich noted, though, that there has not been a significant number of such submissions. Tobin said that the evidence just isn’t available yet to determine whether reducing testing harms rather than helps those who need it. “We need more time” to make this determination, he said.
With artificial intelligence and ChatGPT prominently in today’s headlines, an audience member questioned how the law schools will address this. Weich believes that AI can be used as a teaching tool, working to improve what he called a “real diminution of writing skills at the earlier levels.” Tobin admitted concern about AI in the law school setting but noted that in a practice setting, he is less concerned. He thinks that Maryland Carey’s recently revised legal writing program, which he called “more intensive and interactive,” is less susceptible to AI. Like Weich, he is concerned about the writing skills of law students, observing that they come to law schools with fewer writing skills.
Weich believes that professors are becoming aware of countermeasures to spot machine-generated writing; at this time, Tobin said he can easily tell when something is computer generated.
The Bar Exam
In response to an audience member asking, “what do you think of getting rid of the bar exam,” Weich explained that the bar exam is evolving to become more practical, requiring test takers to identify issues and construct a solution. He questioned, though, whether there would be enough consumer protection if someone could become a lawyer without ever having to sit for a serious test, should the elimination of the LSAT and bar exam ever come to fruition (not to mention a lack of standardized tests to even enter college).
Tobin, though, shared his concerns about the bar exam, saying that it doesn’t show what makes a good lawyer. A bar exam “tests tenacity, ability to memorize, and regurgitation . . . . We’ve designed a test that’s a barrier to entry that doesn’t do a good job at analyzing whether you’ll be a good lawyer.” Weich disagreed somewhat, noting that the bar exam can be a test of “whether you’ve got your act together” and can organize your life.
Diversity in Law Schools
Both UBLaw and Maryland Carey Law have programs to increase the diversity of their students. Weich referred to the Fannie Angelos Scholars program, which recruits and mentors talented students from Maryland’s historically Black colleges and universities. Maryland Carey Law’s Diversity Scholars program provides scholarships, mentoring, and associations with law firms to 10 to 15 students each year.
Regarding diversity, Tobin said one of his goals was to have students “dream big” and to provide a vehicle where they can “interact with people who may motivate them to understand the kinds of things you can do in law practice.”
Where Will Law Schools Be 10 Years from Now?
Weich and Tobin agreed that although the pandemic showed that real-time interaction with people is possible via Zoom and other methods, this is not the best way to teach law. They discussed the benefits, though, of designing some classes for remote education and putting more courses online. This could benefit night students who have full-time day jobs; perhaps they’d attend class in person only two nights a week rather than four.
Neither speaker saw law school as an entirely virtual option, though, noting that law schools should be purposeful in choosing the medium of delivery.
“So much learning goes on in law school outside of the classroom. People treasure learning with their colleagues,” Tobin said. “There is something different about law school.”