No Easy Answers for Challenges Facing Law Schools
Syracuse University's new chancellor offered a hopeful assessment Wednesday for the future of law schools, despite the sinking applications, enrollments and revenues that have cast a pall on many institutions.
"We do not have a crisis in legal education," Kent Syverud told more than 400 lawyers attending the presidential summit at the New York State Bar Association's annual meeting at the New York Hilton Midtown in Manhattan.
Rather, Syverud said law schools experiencing a 20 percent average increase in expenses versus revenues face what he called a "management challenge" that should be embraced as an chance to produce better and more practice-ready graduates.
"It is not even an unusual management challenge," said Syverud, who was dean of Washington University School of Law before recently taking over at Syracuse last month. "The fact that it's unusual for American law schools to see this great a swing is interesting, but in almost every other sector of our economy, including legal services, it's a management challenge that's quite familiar."
He said many schools are "embracing" their financial troubles as an "opportunity to get better" and to take on "calcified practices" that have been hard to change in the past.
"Those that don't adjust are going to fail," he said. "That's a good thing, too. This is America. There is no constitutional right for you institution to continue forever without changing or evolving."
Syverud was on a panel on the future of legal education that was moderated by James Silkenat, the Sullivan & Worcester partner who is currently president of the American Bar Association.
Others on the panel were Jenny Rivera, a state Court of Appeals judge, and University of Maryland School of Law Dean Phoebe Haddon.
Silkenat said he has spoken and written more about legal education since becoming ABA president last year than on any other subject surrounding the legal profession.
"If I was asked four or five years ago whether legal education was going to be such a critically important topic for the legal profession, I would have come up with the wrong answer," Silkenat said. "But now, this topic, legal education, is a of real and immediate importance to really all of the legal profession."