Elizabeth Chambliss joined the School of Law this summer to teach courses on legal ethics and the changing legal services market. Chambliss is also the new director of the school’s Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough Center on Professionalism. She previously was research director for the Program on the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School and taught for 10 years at New York Law School. Her scholarship focuses on the future of legal education.
Q: How is legal education changing and what will it look like in 10 years?
A: I would expect to see more specialization among law schools, hopefully along functional or substantive versus simply status lines. But this will take proactive, public-spirited efforts by the profession. Currently, there is too much of a dog-eat-dog atmosphere among law schools and too much focus on the economic returns of law school for lawyers. The profession needs to focus instead on the value of law school training for clients and look for new ways to deliver quality legal services at a lower cost.
Q: What trends do you see in the legal profession?
A: Like other “knowledge” industries, legal services is being disrupted by information technology, which makes it easier to separate and automate parts of what used to be lawyers’ work. In corporate markets we see the emergence of legal process outsourcing, much as we saw business process outsourcing before it. In consumer markets, we see increasing competition from self-help legal software, automated document assembly services and smart-phone apps. I know a lot of smart former lawyers who are designing software to promote new forms of public engagement with and access to legal services.
Q: As its new director, what plans do you have for the NMRS Center on Professionalism?
A: The Nelson Mullins Center has been a leader in developing mentoring programs for lawyers and law students, and has well-established ties with the bar and other law schools. My goal is to build on the center’s national reputation in this area and expand its mission to include leadership training, research on the profession and public-facing educational programs for S.C. lawyers and consumers. I also want to make the center a hub for entrepreneurial and interdisciplinary projects and a place where students with an entrepreneurial bent can collaborate on ideas for legal start-ups. Eventually, we hope to bring experienced practitioners and scholars here to collaborate on projects aimed at improving the delivery of legal services in specific fields.
Q: You received your undergraduate degree from the College of Charleston.
Do you have Southern roots?
A: My mother, Coleman Chambliss, was born and raised in Columbia and is the Executive Director of the Richland County Bar. I’m sure most of your readers know her! My father was in the military, so we moved around quite a bit when I was young, but I have lived in Columbia off and on throughout my life. I went to first grade at A.C. Moore, where my daughters just started. And I graduated from Spring Valley High School.
Q: What led you to a career in law? If not, what drew you to the law, and then into academia?
A: I think of myself as a scholar and teacher; I study, rather than practice, the law. I know some people think this is exactly what’s wrong with law schools! But I disagree. If law is to make a credible claim to being a “profession”—a self-regulating occupational group that maintains high standards for training and practice—it needs some people whose specialty is to take a big-picture, long-term view. That is not to say one would want a law school made up entirely of people like me. But research on the profession is important. Today more than ever, law schools need to think critically about their public and professional mission and how to guide—versus simply react to—changes in the economy and society. I’m proud to be at a law school that is committed to this project and look forward to contributing.
Q: When you’re not teaching or writing, how do you like to relax and unwind?
A: I’m always teaching or writing. Just ask my family. If it’s not about law, it’s about whatever they are doing. I can be little bossy. But I do like to cook, and garden, and get outside. I love the beach. And I’ll take the beaches in South Carolina over the Jersey Shore any day.