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Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fleischer: NYU Signals Shift Toward Law School Specialization

NY Times DealBookNew York Times DealBook:  The Shift Toward Law School Specialization, by Victor Fleischer (Colorado):

The twilight of the generalist law degree is here. ... New York University School of Law is retrofitting its third-year curriculum to allow for increased specialization. Options include advanced study in areas like tax or corporate law, working in Washington at a federal agency or foreign study in Buenos Aires, Paris or Shanghai. While the study-abroad aspect of the program has received much of the attention, the heart of the proposal is an important shift toward specialization. ...

In my view, law schools should play matchmaker, guiding students toward specialties that are likely to endure. Big firm attorneys in some practice areas will continue to have a comparative advantage over low-cost attorneys, in-house lawyers and other professionals. One area is bet-the-company litigation, where high stakes justify high fees. Another is mergers and acquisitions and securities work, where, in addition to negotiating and drafting documents, lawyers usually quarterback the deal to closing. A third area is any practice that demands highly specialized legal and regulatory knowledge, like bankruptcy, tax and financial regulation. The knowledge required is intrinsically legal and cannot be easily moved offshore or outsourced to nonlawyers or contract attorneys. ...

Tax can serve as a model for this shift toward specialization. The tax L.L.M., or Master of Law degree, is perhaps the one example of specialized legal education that has already proved successful for both schools and students, at least at the top programs. A tax L.L.M. builds on foundational law school training (unlike a master’s degree in tax accounting), and it signals a breadth and depth of tax knowledge that cannot be readily provided by low-cost competitors. Even as the number of large law firm jobs has declined, tax L.L.M.’s have the option of competing for good jobs in accounting firms. Several schools now offer three-year J.D.-tax L.L.M. programs.

Could the same approach work in other areas of law that demand specialized legal expertise, like securities law, banking law or patent law? The critical question is whether there is sufficient market demand to supply an adequate number of jobs with six-figure salaries.

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Comments

"Big firm attorneys in some practice areas will continue to have a comparative advantage over low-cost attorneys, in-house lawyers and other professionals"

should read

"Big firm attorneys in some practice areas will continue to have a competitive advantage over low-cost attorneys, in-house lawyers and other professionals."

"Comparative advantage" is a term of art in economic analysis that does not mean what you think it does.

Posted by: Jimbino | Oct 25, 2012 5:59:44 PM

Georgetown has offered a securities LLM for over 30 years, and it has worked just fine.

Posted by: GT | Oct 26, 2012 6:08:53 AM