January 28, 2007
WSJ: Law School Should Be More Like Medical School
The recent arrest of Anderson Kill & Olick paralegal Brian Valery for practicing law without a license raises a number of questions about how the ersatz Fordham graduate could have gotten away with representing corporate clients in complex litigation -- without ever having gone to law school. The more salient question, however, is: Would it have mattered if he had? ...
There appears to be an emerging consensus that although law schools may teach students how to "think like a lawyer," they don't really teach them how to be a lawyer.
It is hard not to agree. One of the biggest problems with the current state of legal education is its emphasis on books rather than people. By reading about the law rather than engaging in it, students end up with the misperception that lawyers spend most of their time debating the niceties of the Rule Against Perpetuities rather than sorting out the messy, somewhat anarchic version of the truth that judges and courts care about. When they graduate, young lawyers rarely know how to interview clients, advocate for their positions, negotiate a settlement or perform any number of other tasks that lawyers do every day. In short, they are woefully unprepared to be lawyers, despite the outrageous hourly fees charged for their services.
By giving students the false idea that being a lawyer is all about intellectual debate, we also drive the wrong students to law school in the first place. The hordes of English majors who fill our classes might think twice if they knew that economics and mathematics -- with their emphasis on problem-solving -- are the best preparation for a career in law. Flowery prose is seldom valued by an overburdened judiciary. ...
These days, to call law school a "trade school" is considered an insult to the establishment. Professors are firmly entrenched in their intellectual camps and pursue their academic agendas. Faculty members with "real world" experience are rarely hired on that basis alone -- although it is quite common to hire professors who have clerked for judges but never practiced at all. The Carnegie Foundation is to be admired for advocating more clinical education, in which students will have an opportunity to learn some hands-on skills. ...
If law schools really want to change the way they train young lawyers, they would look to medical schools. The latter require clinical "rotations" in the last two years of a student's education and then demand at least one more year of training after graduation. By the time your doctor is licensed, he has examined hundreds of patients. ...
The state bars profess interest in protecting the public, but none seem to care whether new lawyers can actually do the tasks with which they will soon be confronted. ...
[L]aw schools can still act. They could team with local practitioners and institutions and demand that their students gain sustained clinical experience -- broadly defined to include anyone needing legal help, not just the usual (nonprofit) suspects. The state bars could refuse to license lawyers until they performed at least one year of postgraduate work, as some other countries require.
Law is not brain surgery. It is a skill that can be acquired through practice and repetition.
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With all due respect, what students want from their law school is a good job upon graduation.
For this reason, schools like Mr. Stracher's are the biggest problem with the system.
These schools promise naive college graduates a rewarding career in law. For this they charge $30,000 to $40,000 per year, not including opportunity cost. All the while, they know full well their graduates will not even be given an interview at most law firms. They know a large percentage of their graduates won't even be employed on graduation.
These are essentially no different than Ponzi schemes. While they may provide Mr. Stracher the cushy life of an academic, they do a disservice to the legal community. One can only hope that his misplaced criticism of legal education is a manifestation of the guilt he must feel.
Posted by: anon | Jan 28, 2007 1:59:43 PM
Most young attorneys do not see a penny of these "outrageous hourly fees charged for their services". The money is pocketed by the firm - that sets their rates. And most young attorneys I know work to pay off the student loans they incurred in achieving this education that Mr. Stracher now believes isn't sufficient.
Maybe there should be more emphasis made on making law school more affordable so that more students could afford to take low paying jobs post-graduation so that they could actually learn these skills. Most of my friends that finished medical school are just as indebted as most young attorneys I know are, but the doctors earn substantially more.
And let's not forget that a lot of attorneys that come out and work for bigger firms do not have very much client contact for a while, as they are locked in a back room doing research and writing.
Posted by: Justin | Jan 29, 2007 9:32:21 AM