On November 14, Wolters Kluwer Legal Education hosted the first ever invitation-only Leading Edge summit for Law Students. Inspired by our productive Leading Edge conference for Law Faculty in July, Leading Edge: Law Student was an attendee-driven forum for brainstorming what the future of legal education should look like from a student's perspective. We had much curiosity heading into the conference: how different would the students' perspective on the future of legal education look from that of the faculty?
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As it turned out, that was the wrong question. The students, in their rich and probing discussions, differed from faculty not so much in what they agreed as future goals — stronger practical education, smoother paths to employability, greater diversity, all of which both groups spoke about intensively — but in what they considered the how of how to get there.
There was extensive discussion by students, for example, of the intricacies of how financial aid works, specifically the risks of their being pushed out of financial aid as a result of a poor first semester. It's clear that financial anxieties can so dominate many students' lives that money — rather than lack of access to clinics or externships — is viewed often as the primary hurdle to employability.
Balance was raised often as well. It's clear that many law students, while enthusiastic about all of the options that their law schools offer — clinics, moot court, law review, advanced electives and more — are also deeply uncertain which choices to make to best position themselves for a successful career, and are perennially anxious that whatever choices they make leave them vulnerable when compared with students who make different ones.
Two examples of how the same topics (employability, experiential education), motivated by the same underlying concerns (successful life outcomes for law students) suggest markedly different challenges to faculty (how do we expand the number of clinics and externships? how can we expand financial aid?) than to students.
There was also fruitful discussion on ways to better integrate digital solutions into the classroom (in which there was essentially unanimous interest), how to better connect with and leverage alumni, and how to work with administrators to drive more kinds of diversity among the student body (for example, greater diversity of sexualities).
The format of the conference, similar to that of the summer's Leading Edge faculty conference, was unconference. The attendees were presented with an empty white board containing 27 meeting slots over two days. Students collaborated to brainstorm session ideas, volunteered to lead discussions, and penciled in their session idea on the board. (picture) Then the attendees built a meeting schedule for themselves based on their interests and the conference began, run entirely by law students. Attendees came from 19 different law schools from every region of the country.
The discussion was extremely stimulating, and the group enjoyed building lasting connections, not least over bowling at Legacy Place.
For us at Wolters Kluwer, as "flies on the wall", the event was extremely informative, and is certain to become a recurring event.