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Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Practice-Ready Law School Graduates and Faculty Hiring

PracticePaul Campos (Colorado), Dealing with the Crash, Pt. 4 (Faculty Hiring Edition):

Next week Washington’s Wardman Park hotel will be invaded by 800 or so people looking for jobs as law professors, at the annual hiring conference put on by the Association of American Law Schools. “Experiential learning” is the buzz phrase of the moment in legal academia, as law schools deal with the latest wave of criticism that claims legal education doesn’t do enough to prepare graduates to actually practice law.  ...

[T]he crisis of the American law school has almost nothing to do with the fact that law schools don’t produce “practice-ready” graduates, whatever that phrase is taken to mean. Producing “practice-ready” graduates (to the extent this could be done within the context of institutions that even loosely resemble current American law schools) does nothing about the problem that there aren’t nearly enough legal jobs that would allow those graduates to practice their newly-acquired skills, and even fewer legal jobs that pay enough to justify the current cost of legal education. ...

Furthermore, there’s actually no evidence that legal employers — and especially the kinds of legal employers who pay enough to make the cost of law school an arguably rational investment — put any value at all on the relative practicality of graduates’ legal education. As Robert Condlin notes in a new article [Practice-Ready Law School Graduates: A Millennialist Fantasy]:

No one would dispute that the United States legal system has a labor market problem, but law schools cannot revive the labor market, or improve the employment prospects of their graduates, by providing a different type of instruction. Placing students in jobs is a function of a school’s academic reputation, not its curriculum, and the legal labor market will rebound only after the market as a whole has rebounded (and perhaps not then). The cause of the present troubles is a lack of jobs, not a lack of graduates (of any kind), and producing more “practice ready” graduates will have no effect on the supply of jobs. The proposal is a spectacular non sequitur to the present troubles....

Despite the fact that almost every law school this side of New Haven is now slathering its web site and other promotional materials with claims that it provides an impeccably “practical” (as well as, of course, a sophisticated theoretical) legal education to its charges, the vast majority of schools continue to put no value -- or indeed place what sometimes appears to be an actively negative value -- on hiring faculty who have actually practiced law.

Consider the backgrounds of the people who took entry-level tenure track jobs at ABA-accredited law schools this year: ... 28.1% had no legal practice experience of any kind. Nearly three out of five new law professors (58.2%) had between zero and three years of practice experience. ... Only 13.5% of entry-level tenure-track legal academics had more than six years of legal practice experience, and only 7.3% had ten or more years of experience. ...

In sum, leaving aside whether it makes sense for law schools to dedicate more resources to attempting to produce “practice-ready” lawyers, it’s clear that the current tenure-track hiring practices of law schools provide no evidence that law schools are in fact doing so.

Legal Education | Permalink


If "practice-ready" means "ready to be exploited by law firms," I have very mixed feelings about it.

Posted by: michael livingston | Oct 10, 2013 4:42:58 AM

You could perform the same analysis on existing longer-tenure law faculty and produce much the same results. One difference is that in that context we might discover some erosion of the law practice skills and system knowledge that had been gained early in a graduate's practice career. When I graduated it was emphasized that it took something like five years to develop the combination of experience, knowledge and performance skills that were central to being a "good" lawyer. The "practice ready" movement is a bit deluded unless it means offering a taste of the range of skills, concentrating on problem identification and problem solving, and creating a conceptual structure or template of law practice into which subsequent experience and skill development could be placed.

Posted by: David | Oct 10, 2013 8:24:21 AM