Paul L. Caron

Monday, July 11, 2011

WSJ: Law Schools Get Practical

Wall Street Journal, Law Schools Get Practical: With the Tight Job Market, Course Emphasis Shifts From Textbooks to Skill Sets:

Looking to attract employers' attention, some law schools are throwing out decades of tradition by replacing textbook courses with classes that teach more practical skills.

Indiana University Maurer School of Law started teaching project management this year and also offers a course on so-called emotional intelligence. ... New York Law School hired 15 new faculty members over the past two years, many directly from the ranks of working lawyers, to teach skills in negotiation, counseling and fact investigation. ... And Washington and Lee University School of Law completely rebuilt its third-year curriculum in 2009, swapping out lectures and Socratic-style seminars for case-based simulations run by practicing lawyers.

A few elite players also are making adjustments. Harvard Law School last year launched a problem-solving class for first-year students, and Stanford Law School is considering making a full-time clinical course—which entails several 40-hour plus weeks of actual case work—a graduation requirement. "Law firms are saying, 'You're sending us people who are not in a position to do anything useful for clients.' This is a first effort to try and fix that," says Larry Kramer, the law dean at Stanford.

Chart The moves come amid a prolonged downturn in the legal job market. Only about one-quarter of last year's graduating law-school classes—down from 33% in 2009—snagged positions with big law firms, according to the National Association for Law Placement, an organization that collects employment data. ... There are also fewer jobs to go around at a time when lawyers are in excess. In 2010, there were more than twice as many people—about 54,000—who passed the bar exam than there were legal job openings in the U.S., according to an analysis by consultants at Economic Modeling Specialists Inc.

Law schools have generally lagged behind other, more real-world oriented institutions like business schools in piloting practical improvements, as law professors tend to focus on scholarly work, says Bill Henderson, a professor at Maurer. And curriculum change tends to "move like a glacier," he adds.

But many remain skeptical that new approaches to education will have a meaningful impact on the ability of lawyers to land jobs. "It could enhance the reputation of the law places that will produce new lawyers who have practical skills," says Timothy Lloyd, a partner at Hogan Lovells and chair of its recruiting committee. "As to the particular student when I'm interviewing them? It doesn't make much of a difference."

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No substitute for getting out there and doing a felony jury trial for some guy from the 'hood. The more elite the school the more the need.

Posted by: jimharper | Jul 12, 2011 1:09:42 PM

So who is teaching "problem solving" at HLS? A former SCOTUS law clerk no doubt. They have a lot of experience in solving problems. "New York Law School hired 15 new faculty members over the past two years, many directly from the ranks of working lawyers, to teach skills in negotiation, counseling and fact investigation." Hire them all from the ranks of working lawyers and NYLS will have something. Bottom line: the U.S. legal profession does not need more baby law professors.

Posted by: Publius Novus | Jul 12, 2011 8:35:39 AM

This is an improvement, but the problem is that now students are paying (tuition) to work which doesn't really make sense. Perhaps law school should only be one or two years long, followed by one or two years of unpaid work.

Posted by: anon | Jul 11, 2011 12:18:58 PM