Christensen Institute Releases Research on the Looming Disruption of Legal Education

Law Schools Face "Imminent Threat"; Researchers Envision Three Paths Forward

Mar 15, 2016, 06:00 ET from Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation

SAN MATEO, Calif., March 15, 2016 /PRNewswire/ -- Law schools are growing increasingly out of step with shifts in the legal services market and are facing dramatic declines in enrollment, revenue, and job placement for graduates. Coupled with recent changes in licensure policy and the disruption of higher education in general, law schools' inability to innovate has created a perfect storm for disruption.

In a new research paper, "Disrupting Law School: How disruptive innovation will revolutionize the legal world," the Clayton Christensen Institute explores the severe vulnerability of law schools and outlines potential steps forward for university administrators, entrepreneurs, and policymakers. Coauthored by Michael Horn, co-founder and distinguished fellow at the Institute, and Michele Pistone, professor of law at Villanova University and visiting fellow at the Institute, the research paper predicts a harrowing future for law schools unwilling to adapt. 

"Given the sheer number of concurrent disruptive forces, legal education is likely facing the most imminent threat in higher education," said Horn. "Those able to pioneer online, competency-based programs that focus outside of the traditional JD will have a leg up in the struggle to survive."

Fittingly, the research published the day before U.S. News & World Report plans to release its annual law school rankings—rankings that Horn and Pistone contend mischaracterize factors of quality, thus enticing administrators to strive toward outdated metrics that only perpetuate the vulnerability of law schools. In contrast, the researchers offer three specific recommendations law schools should consider in order to match market demands and sidestep irrelevance:

  1. Reconsider the JD from the ground up – To revolutionize legal education, law schools can start from scratch, developing an educational model through which graduates prove mastery of the competencies most relevant to the 21st century lawyer.
  2. Blend online with in-class learning – To improve learning and control costs, law schools can use online learning to shift from the near-exclusive use of the Socratic method to hybrid learning approaches, blending in-class activities with online learning.
  3. Allow JD students to focus on one specific area of law – There will be increased demand for specialization in law school, presenting an opportunity for schools to offer core subjects through online competency-based learning while specialized areas of study are saved for the classroom.

"We can't continue to send graduates into a workforce armed only with skillsets that worked in the past," said Pistone. "The industry is changing. We must view the inevitable disruption as an opportunity to renew the energy and relevance of a legal education."                                 

The Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation ( is a research organization dedicated to improving the world through disruptive innovation.

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SOURCE Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation