It has become apparent that many have taken issue with the curriculum taught at today’s law schools. In yet another law school-focused article for The New York Times, David Segal sheds more light on this persistent matter, which is especially at the forefront now due to the recession. Until recently, clients at law firms have financed on-the-job training for new lawyers, so the fact that students graduated from law school with little practical experience was somewhat of a nonissue. But now that firms and their clients are scaling back, there needs to be a new system in which inexperienced lawyers can be trained properly.
Law schools would seem like the obvious choice, but some argue that “law school is the wrong place to teach legal practice because law is divided into countless niches and that mastering any of them can take years. This sort of instruction, they say, can be taught only in the context of an apprenticeship.”
Plus, creating a more practical curriculum isn’t in the interest of most law professors, since “there are few incentives for law professors to excel at teaching. It might earn them the admiration of students, but it won’t win them any professional goodies, like tenure, a higher salary, prestige or competing offers from better schools.” Schools are looking for scholars to join their faculty, not experienced lawyers.
In response, Dean David Levi from Duke Law School extols the state of today’s legal education, which he claims now includes more experiential courses—“Courses like these provide an introduction to law practice and are highly motivating for many students; they cannot, and are not intended to, substitute for the skills training and mentoring that the best law firms and government offices must continue to provide to new lawyers.”
It seems like everyone is just passing the buck. The Atlantic holds law firms chiefly responsible for perpetuating this situation: “For years, they simply bought whatever law schools were selling. Instead of expecting the schools to teach J.D.’s practical skills, they treated them as glorified head-hunting services from which they could draw raw talent.” The article proposes they take a drastic measure—law firms give elite schools an ultimatum, that if they don’t reform their curriculum, the firms will stop hiring their graduates. A law school’s prestige is primarily based on where its students go after graduation. The schools would thus be forced to take action.
Two Yale law professors offer another creative solution in an article for Slate. They first push for better disclosure of information to applicants so that they can “better assess what their degree will be worth, long-term.” They also suggest that students can opt to quit after their first year and receive a half-tuition rebate off that year. This way, students can have a way out if law school isn’t for them, and schools might be more careful who they admit in the first place. Along those lines, if law schools lent money directly to students, they might think twice about who is worth betting on and accepting into the school.
All interesting ideas, but as Above the Law notes, “At the end of the day, this all comes down to the lack of responsibility and critical thinking on the part of individual prospective law students.” Perhaps if they had a more realistic vision of why they should attend law school and what their post-grad future would entail, this would be less of an issue.