Madison's post concludes with this arresting analogy:
Luke Bierman quoted Hastings Dean Frank Wu, who has compared legal education to 1970s Detroit. I’ve written of a different and to my mind, more apt comparison: Legal education is the 20th century steel industry – massively successful up until the very end, and then, in a moment, it wasn’t. Not successful, and not much of an industry. American steel producers (including producers in Pittsburgh) have rebounded, and they still make lots of great steel – but the big integrated producers don’t make the huge quantities of the structural steel that made them rich and powerful, and in all that they produce today, they employ only a tiny fraction of the US workforce that they once did. In Pittsburgh, where I live and which has become something of a poster-child for the chic revival of post-industrial America, the scars of the dislocation, disruption, and loss wrought by the crash of steel are still visible, and full of meaning and economic impact, 30 years on.What I know about the political economy of the U.S. steel industry is limited to what I learned from Tom Geoghegan's great book Which Side Are You On?, so I can't really comment on how apt Madison's analogy actually is, other than to note it serves as a reminder that changes in economic and social structures can happen very quickly, and that although people aren't very good at foreseeing such changes, they're still better at foreseeing them than they are at doing anything to prepare for them.
The collapse of American steel may or may not have been avoidable, at least at the very end. But everyone at the top of the pyramid, on both management and labor sides, saw the end coming: the over-capacity, the flawed economic model, the changing demand. They saw it decades ahead of time. Everyone diagnosed the problems as the responsibility of other players. In macro and micro ways there were plenty of opportunities for management and labor collectively to take a balanced view of their futures and to avoid walking over the precipice together. Yet walk over the precipice together is what, in the end, happened. The parallel to legal education is imprecise. At the very least, this is not law schools’ 1981, the year that Steel's struggles really started to hit home in earnest.
Be that as it may, Prof. Madison appears to be someone who sees that the legal services industry is undergoing radical changes, and that those changes are in the process of making the current economic structure of legal education unsustainable. This makes the part of his post that precedes the conclusion quoted above all the more odd. Madison argues at length that legal education needs to become more client-centered, and that the best or at least the most practical way to bring this about is for individual legal academics to employ innovative teaching techniques, and for those innovations to be supported by deans and alumni.
What's odd about this is that it seems completely disconnected from "the over-capacity, the flawed economic model, the changing demand" that wrecked the US steel industry thirty years ago and that is well on its way toward wrecking legal academia in particular and higher education in America in general. It may well be true that it would be a good thing for law school teaching to be "client-centered," but leaving aside the immense practical difficulties that stand in the way of that happening (I'll have more to say on that shortly), is client-centered education going to create more jobs for lawyers? Is it going to make legal education cheaper? Is it going to affect the technological changes that every day are eliminating more and more traditional legal work, or transferring that work to non-lawyers?
I suspect that Prof. Madison, like so many other people in legal academia at the moment, wants to talk about curricular reform, because curricular reform is something over which law professors have a relatively high degree of individual control, and which can be undertaken at a relatively low cost, in both individual and institutional terms. The arresting analogy with which his post ends reminds both the author and the reader that the kinds of changes that are happening in our industry, and that are just beginning to affect legal academics, aren't going to be easy or cheap.