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Wolters Kluwer 6th Annual Leading Edge Conference

Wolters KluwerLegal Talk Network had the privilege of attending the 6th Annual Wolters Kluwer Leading Edge Conference in Riverwoods, Illinois just outside of Chicago. Nestled back into the woods at the conference center, the attendees were welcomed by the organizers from Wolters Kluwer, who could not have been nicer (please see list of organizers below). They took care of all us weary travelers, making sure we ate and were properly introduced to one another. It didn’t matter if you were shy or felt a little out of your element, they made everyone feel right at home.

The first day was really a half-day, but it was probably the most important because attendees got to pick the legal education topics for discussion. This unconference model left the attendees in the driver’s seat with one small exception… Chatham House Rules. In order to make sure everyone felt open to share contributions freely, the organizers wanted to maintain a certain amount of confidentiality. All attendees (including media) were asked to keep attributions-to-ideas a secret. Said another way, we were not allowed to discuss who said what. 

The topics were complex, abundant, and time was short. Regardless, all contributed to these energetic, passionate, and respectful discussions. The debates and exchanges were as enjoyable as the provocative topics. It was a real treat to hear everyone’s honest assessments about certain issues as presented in a constructive way. Here’s a shortlist of the many topics discussed (reworded and consolidated to avoid attribution):

  • Bar Exam Passage
  • Student Loan Debt
  • Economic Condition of Law Schools
  • New Designs for Law School Education
  • Free Speech on Campus
  • U.S. News Rankings
  • Curriculum and Measuring Effectiveness
  • Tenure and Hiring Faculty
  • Law School Libraries
  • LSAT
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Legal Education
  • Today’s Job Market
  • Wellness and Wellbeing
  • Technology and Access to Justice

There were both volunteer and assigned note takers at each session to document the discussion. At the end of each day, participants were asked to summarize an hour-long meeting down to a minute or less for the entire group. 

Admittedly, the host and guest list was a little intimidating. Everyone was incredibly accomplished, extremely smart, and an excellent communicator. Be it by friendly subterfuge or subversive suggestion, I somehow found my way into moderating a session about bar passage rates. Although very curious about this subject, I was certainly the least knowledgeable in the room. But that didn’t matter. All that was needed was a quick intro with some statistics and the attendees took it from there.  

I learned a lot about our legal education system while attending these sessions. But perhaps the most enlightening was how difficult change at law schools can be. For these institutions, impediments-to-change are both externally imposed and self-inflicted. 

In terms of external pressures, law schools face a variety of challenges. They are subject to accreditation requirements and rankings systems which can both impact their bottom line and limit their problem-solving options. In addition, they need to prepare students for a bar exam process that they have no control over. And if that wasn’t difficult enough, they face external market pressures screaming for overall cost decreases in legal services as well as the looming prospect of tightening in student loan lending.

Internally, law schools have inadvertently “painted themselves into a corner” with their well-intentioned tenure programs. Compensation for these high-value professors is a significant balance sheet item that can’t be readily reduced in times of trouble. Not only is it legally difficult to decrease the number of tenured professors, but it can also trigger the so-called “death spiral” where institutions fall in rank, possibly lose accreditation, and face rapidly decreasing first-year class sizes… which eventually leads to “closing the doors”. In addition, many institutions tapped their endowments to discount tuition in an effort to maintain rankings and keep high-performing students during the recent recession. As a result, many law schools find themselves vulnerable as they adjust to a “new normal” where post-graduation job prospects are not bouncing back to pre-recession levels, resulting in lower ROI for legal education.

But take heart, there was another major take away from our visit to Wolters Kluwer. Legal educators very much care for their students, not only for their academic well-being but also for their mental and financial wellness. They recognize the difficulties their students face and are making efforts to find solutions. If my group of fellow unconference attendees is any indicator, great minds and creativity are being invested to find answers.

List of Organizers from Wolters Kluwer:

  • Dean Sonderegger: SVP and General Manager of Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S. at Wolters Kluwer
  • Vikram A. Savkar: Vice President & General Manager International and Higher Education Markets Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Nicole Pinard: Executive Director, Market Development at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Linda Gharib: Director, Marketing Communications & Media at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Natalie Danner: Editorial Director, Legal Education at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Sean Napier: Marketing Specialist at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Joe Terry: Publisher at Wolters Kluwer Legal Education
  • Maureen Kenealy: Director, Digital Learning and Engagement at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.
  • Neal Johnson: Associate Director, Integrated Marketing at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory, U.S.

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After receiving his J.D. and MBA, Laurence Colletti went into solo practice with emphasis in general business and commercial real estate. He has always carried a strong passion for web-based media with a particular interest in podcasting and video. Laurence leverages his legal background against that passion to help bring sophisticated, relevant content to Legal Talk Network podcasts. You can follow Laurence on Twitter at @LaurenceEsq.