Wednesday, February 4, 2015
Jason W. Yackee (Wisconsin), Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes?:
This short paper provides an empirical examination of the link between law school experiential (or "skills") learning opportunities and JD employment outcomes. The current "law school crisis" poses a number of serious challenges to the legal academy, and how law schools should respond is hotly debated. One common suggestion is that law schools should reform their curriculum to emphasize the development of practical skills through experiential learning, rather than emphasize what is described as the impractical, theory- and doctrine-heavy book learning of the traditional law school curriculum. Employers are said to be more likely to hire those with substantial skills training. This paper provides a simple empirical examination of that basic hypothesis. To summarize the paper's key finding: there is no statistical relationship between law school opportunities for skills training and JD employment outcomes. In contrast, employment outcomes do seem to be strongly related to law school prestige.
None of this is to say that skills education is necessarily wasted money. Law schools might rationally and justifiably invest in skills training to achieve other worthwhile goals unrelated to JD employment outcomes. It is easy to imagine a number of plausible and perhaps even empirically testable hypotheses about the positive consequences of skills training. For example, perhaps students who engage in skills training have a more enjoyable time in law school. Perhaps they enter their first job with more confidence and less stress. Perhaps they obtain better jobs than they otherwise would have obtained. Perhaps they have a meaningful impact on the lives of the legally underserved. Perhaps they are less likely to commit professional malpractice in their first jobs. And so on. Clinics and other experiential learning opportunities certainly have a role to play in modern legal education, and perhaps an important one. But in deciding how much to spend on providing such opportunities, law schools might want to consider the lack of evidence that such opportunities are likely to improve their graduates’ overall prospects of obtaining a quality job as a lawyer.
Update: The Volokh Conspiracy, Do Law School Clinics Lead to More Jobs for Law School Graduates?, by Orin Kerr (George Washington)