Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The Aba Task Force Report on the Future of Legal Education: The Role of Adjunct Professors and Practical Teaching in the Energy Sector

Academic journal article Energy Law Journal

The Aba Task Force Report on the Future of Legal Education: The Role of Adjunct Professors and Practical Teaching in the Energy Sector

Article excerpt

Synopsis: In September 2013, the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education issued its preliminary report. One of the curriculum reforms advanced by the ABA and others is the expansion of practical courses taught by adjunct professors. The author has developed practical courses focused on the energy industry for Rice University's Graduate School of Business and the University of Chicago Law School. He advocates teaching industry frameworks through real life examples-from the practitioner's own career-and then requiring students to apply those lessons in a competitive simulation. For law students considering a career in the energy industry, such courses provide an effective bridge between the traditional curriculum and the practice demands of energy clients.


Once upon a time, law schools focused on training lawyers to think critically, with their eventual employers responsible for practical instruction. This customary division of legal education has come under increasing pressure in recent years. Clients are demanding that work product be completed more quickly, making it difficult to include starter lawyers on matters. Higher billing rates for junior lawyers also have made on-the-job training more expensive.

Just as law firms compete for clients so do law schools vie to place their students with the best employers. Firms, in turn, are demanding that law schools bear more of the training burden:

The model of legal education that took shape in the twentieth century involved a rough division of educational responsibility: law schools took on responsibility for basic, general education of lawyers; . . . and the remainder of legal education-in particular, the more skills and business-oriented aspects-were left to be learned from those already in practice. This rough allocation eventually began to break down. The legal profession increasingly began to assign, or try to assign, more responsibility to law schools for the practical and business aspects of the education of lawyers, mainly for economic reasons (including unwillingness of clients to subsidize the education of new lawyers). The result has been increased pressures on law school curricula.1

With a tighter job market, law schools also face pressure from students and prospective students to provide relevant training that enables them to secure attractive employment.

Lawyers in the energy industry bear a particularly steep learning curve. It is not enough to just be an expert in legal disciplines such as transactions or litigation. Industry expertise is required, as well. Energy law is a many-layered cake of politics, regulations, joint ventures, and industry practice-iced and sprinkled with technical complexity. Practitioners must also understand energy economics, engineering, and geoscience, among other disciplines.

As law schools assume more responsibility for practical instruction, we the practitioners will be the adjunct professors invited to teach what we know. Our courses will be the bridges between the analytical tradition and the real-world demands of practicing energy law. This article proposes a methodology for effectively teaching practical material to law students through the use of (i) simplified frameworks, (ii) real world examples from the practitioner's personal experience, and (iii) a competitive simulation that requires students to apply those lessons under an instructor's supervision.


Adjusted for inflation, the cost of law school tuition has quadrupled over the last four decades.2 While the price continues to rise, opportunities are generally declining. Even the largest law firms have reduced hiring, adding only 3,600 new associates last year, "far behind the 5,100 new hires recorded in 2009."3 The net result is that only about half of the 46,000 law school graduates will find full-time employment.4 This 50-50 gamble is placed with a median student debt of more than $100,000. …

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