Monday, January 09, 2012

Is the Axis of Legal Education Shifting to the East?

(Singapore old and new)
I've been researching the global context of legal education recently and the competition is becoming intense. The usual suspects are UK and US law schools, which compete for overseas students especially at the graduate level. Carole Silver has studied this area extensively.

However, I suspect we shall see the competition take on a new dimension. One finding of my research is that US-style legal education is being adopted in more and more countries notably in Asia, eg, China, Japan, and Korea. This is not so much to do with the superior quality of American legal education but rather its perceived emphasis on practice not theory. This is why in China the Ministry of Justice promotes the JM degree while the Education Ministry hews to the LLB.

Even the increasing pursuit of dual degrees depends on a reliance on US law schools, eg, Osgoode Hall/NYU, Windsor/Detroit Mercy, Cornell/Sorbonne. However, there is a new move afoot.

The National University of Singapore (NUS) has had a long term tie with NYU but is now branching out to make itself a legal education hub for Asia. NUS has started a collaboration with Yale for double degrees in law and environment so that candidates can graduate with either a bachelor's degree from NUS or a master's from Yale Law School.

However, it is NUS's latest tie-up that is most interesting. It has signed an MOU with Tsinghua University in China for a 3+1 degree where students graduate with both an LLB and an LLM. Let's add into the mix Peking University Law School's LLM in Chinese Law which is taught in English, Tsinghua University Law School's LLM also taught in English, the Peking University School of Transnational Law (a member of LWOW) which teaches joint JD and JM law programs and we have a developing maturity of legal education that stands in competition with the UK and the US.

These schools realize they are part of a global community, not a parochial one as most US, and UK, law schools remain.  What is intriguing is how explicit they are. NUS depicts itself as a global university which will
Ensure its position as one of the world's leading universities, whose faculty are committed to research with global impact, through focusing on issues of global import and through global collaborations
Secure recognition as a great university of the highest global standing and play a leadership role in the Asian region as the pre-eminent university in Asia.
India is developing along these lines with the Jindal Global Law School which shares a global vision much like that of NUS. How many western universities have such an overt and explicit global strategy?

It is hypothesized that as Asia becomes stronger and more powerful it will become the hub of financial markets and more. This is quite possible as there is nothing secure in being a financial hub. In the last 300 years that honour has been shared by Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, London and New York.

It now looks as though legal education's hub could be shifted from the west to the east as well. Asia is prepared to think big and strategically. Both the ABA and the UK Legal Education and Training Review need to consider this as they plan their revisions. The question is will they do so?


One more item can be thrown into the mix here. MIT's new initiative MITx. MIT says
MIT will make the MITx open learning software available free of cost, so that others — whether other universities or different educational institutions, such as K-12 school systems — can leverage the same software for their online education offerings.
True, you don't get an MIT degree but you will get a certificate from MIT that says you have completed the course. Imagine, if you will, law were to be offered the same way......



paul maharg said...

Good post John; and yes, rest assured that the Legal Ed & Training Review group is considering these issues. On MITx, which I've been following since I have an interest in things OER, it's an interesting development, not just for OER but for any DL or internet-based initiative. I suspect, though, that as an OER initiative it probably needs more in the way of Open Educational Practices (I see that JISC is interested in this idea). Arguably MITx is one step in that direction, but more needs to be done. Making stuff free on the internet only goes so far to addressing learning needs: affordances such as structured dialogue are pretty essential, too. In addition we need to begin to address the complex finances of the non-proprietary market and economies of peer-production (see Yochai Benkler, The Wealth of Networks, and the even more complex issues of pedagogy, learning and socialization.

John Flood said...

Thanks for the insightful comment, Paul. Fundamentally I agree with you that merely putting things on the internet is insufficient, but it seems to me that MIT hopes and will do more than that. I believe it expects universities in developing countries may wish to use the materials. It's in these contexts the proximal work gets done.

But at a fundamental level, what MITx is doing is saying knowledge is free (if not free to disseminate). And my feeling is that many UK institutions don't understand that. They see everything as proprietary and therefore can only be seen if paid for. This is a foolish and retrograde view.

I heard it exemplified when I was interviewing a leading bankruptcy lawyer in New York. He said if he thought of a new legal technique, he then had a two week lead on other lawyers before it became public knowledge. From a proprietary view he couldn't cash in on that knowledge. But from a reputational viewpoint it was pure gold because clients knew he was the one who could think of new techniques and solutions. So the open nature of it ultimately was of benefit.

paul maharg said...

> my feeling is that many UK institutions don't understand that. They see everything as proprietary and therefore can only be seen if paid for.

Entirely with you there. I suspect that many institutional managers think content is the crown jewels. It's not. Students' motives for coming to institutions in order to learn, though highly complex, do include a/getting a chitty that says Degree from University of Rummidge, and b/the personal and social experience of learning and growing. That's what matters.

OER + OEP + ICTs will change institutions, in the case of ICT, pretty massively (MIT & OU initiatives, eg, wd be impossible without internetworked technologies). Digital technologies transform industries (cf current death-throes of Kodak -, and the one constant seems to be that every industry and profession thinks it's special and it won't happen to them (Clay Shirky's good on that -- Here Comes Everybody).

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