Jun. 16, 2017
Whittier's Wake: Does Law School's Closure Portend Broader Legal Ed Changes?
Legal educators and commentators Frank Wu (UC Hastings) and Stephen Diamond (Santa Clara) revisit Whittier Law School's closure, offering differing takes on its causes, its debated inevitability, and what it augurs for the evolution of legal education
This week's show deviates a bit from its usual appellate focus. We're taking a break from forecasting and reviewing rulings, and regarding appellate best practices, to take a look at some broader trends bearing on the legal trade, and upon the schools that train people to occupy it.
Today our guests will revisit the fate of Whittier Law School, which announced in April that it would become the first ABA-accredited law school to close its doors. They'll offer differing reactions, and perspectives on what factors best explain the school's eventual dissolution (the school has said its current students will be able to complete their degrees). Frank Wu, professor at UC Hastings College of the Law, applauds the decision as a rational and necessary response to what he views as structural changes in the legal job market, which have of late depressed significantly the number of law school applicants. Wu himself made a comparably controversial decision while serving as Hastings' dean in 2012 when, foreseeing the fundamental changes he describes, he voluntarily reduced Hastings' 1L class by 25 percent. The move elicited surprise and some criticism, but since then most law schools have - voluntarily or involuntarily - followed suit, shrinking 1L classes, mostly in response to fewer applications. That problem, of too few applicants for too many law schools, Wu says, made a school like Whittier's closure inexorable, and must drive other law schools to evolve.
Our second guest, Stephen Diamond, a professor at Santa Clara School of Law who has also written on this topic, is less sanguine about Whittier disbanding. Diamond notes that legal job numbers are actually trending upward, particularly in Orange County, where Whittier sits. He also worries that shutting a school composed over a majority of minority students will diminish access to the legal profession to diverse groups. Overall, Diamond believes the forces hampering law schools at present may well be cyclical, and that, therefore, Whittier's decision to close may be a short-sighted one.
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