Paul L. Caron

Monday, April 27, 2015

Findley: Why Doesn't Skills Training Improve Law Student Employment Outcomes?

Keith A. Findley (Wisconsin), Assessing Experiential Legal Education: A Response to Professor Yackee:

In his recent article [Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes?], my colleague Jason Yackee offers some interesting data on comparative rates of law-related job placement for graduates of the top 100 U.S. law schools. In the end, his analysis in part reaches the entirely unsurprising conclusion that higher-ranked law schools are more successful at placing their graduates in full-time law-related jobs than are lower-ranked schools. More interestingly, and less obviously, his data also suggest that schools that offer more experiential learning opportunities do not have any greater success in placing their students in full-time law-related jobs than do schools with fewer clinical offerings. From this, he queries whether clinical legal education is worth the expense and opportunity costs that it represents to law schools.

In this response I focus on two important but largely overlooked questions that Yackee's data analysis (if correct) raises.

First, I address the fundamental question Yackee's paper raises implicitly "what significance should attach to any disconnect that may exist between clinical opportunities and hiring rates? My answer is that hiring rates shouldn't affect curricular design in the way Yackee suggests. Simply put, the primary objective underlying the move toward clinical education, and the reason the American Bar Association (ABA) has increasingly demanded more attention to a skills-based curriculum and practice-ready graduates, is not to improve the hiring rates for law school graduates. Rather, the rationale for clinical education is much more about effective pedagogy for adult learners (both about substance and skills) and the need to create effective lawyers, not just as beginning attorneys, but as life-long learners and reflective practitioners.

Second, again assuming that Yackee is correct about the hiring disconnect, the real question is why aren't employers influenced by clinical education when (a) they vocally demand practice-ready lawyers and (b) it is so pedagogically valuable? I suggest that the problem does not reflect a lack of interest by employers in experientially trained and practice-ready graduates (and hence in clinics), but rather inadequacy in the hiring metrics and heuristics that are currently available to employers, and indeed a desire by private law firms for a broader range of clinical offerings (not fewer clinics).

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Seto's pitch has long been that perhaps biglaw firms "should" think about changing their hiring practices I.e. focus more on the lesser ranked schools, in light of preparedness and relative success in making partner, and i think he's on to something.

BUT, until firms actually make the shift, if your goal is biglaw, you'd be a fool to attend any law school that does not place at least 1/3 of its class there right NOW, and you'd be wise to incur as little debt possible so that when the firm goes belly up, merges, has layoffs or pushes you out in 10 years when you fail to make partner, you aren't upside down and can consider a wide range of alternative career choices...

Posted by: Anon | Apr 27, 2015 1:43:32 PM

@ Seto, you said: "In consequence, an American Lawyer survey of mid-level big-firm associates recently ranked us among the top five law schools in preparing grads for big-firm practice: Duke, Michigan, Loyola-LA, Stanford, and Chicago, in that order."

So Loyola is top 5 for prepardness for big law firm work, but are they even in the top 50 for percentage of graduates going to big law firms. Likely not given only 8% of grads get jobs at them. You have proven everyone else's point. Law firms hire for talent and not preparedness.

Posted by: JM | Apr 27, 2015 10:13:07 AM


Sorry, I can't resist.

1) As a former Biglaw hiring partner, how many associates did you hire who came from below... I'll be generous and say the top 25 law schools? What percentage of your hiring did those nonelite grads comprise?

2) If Loyola-LA has such good Biglaw preparation, why did only 31 of 389 grads land Biglaw from the class of 2013? 33 of 411 in the class of 2012? 27 of 403 in the class of 2011? If Loyola-LA grads are better prepared for BigLaw than everyone except for Duke and Michigan, why doesn't Loyola-LA have better BigLaw outcome numbers than Harvard or Chicago or Columbia? Does it have anything to do with my first bullet point?

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 27, 2015 9:13:51 AM

1. Employers hire on the basis of prestige, not skills accumulation or perceived skills accumulation. TaxProf covered a study a few months ago where a .7 correlation coefficient was discovered between rank and % of grads in FT, LT, license-required jobs. There's a reason Northeastern, Drexel, and W&L have terrible job outcomes despite their (self-proclaimed) vaunted experiential education: they lack prestige, and quite desperately lack prestige in the case of the first two.

2. The term "practice-ready" is a hollow shell. There is no way I could have hung a shingle after graduation, even putting finances aside, without grave risk to my clients or my license's standing. A clutch of random internships with little QC oversight is not sufficient to create a practice-ready grad.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Apr 27, 2015 8:47:04 AM

As a former big-firm hiring partner, here's how I would characterize the question Yackee asks: "Do law schools which operate clinics in addition to the standard doctrinal courses taught by professors with little practice experience who are interested primarily in theoretical scholarship have better employment outcomes?" Not surprisingly, the answer seems to be No.

At Loyola-LA, each practice area has an employer advisory council to tell the school what is most needed to train practice-ready lawyers in that area. Our curriculum is shaped significantly by the advice we receive. In consequence, an American Lawyer survey of mid-level big-firm associates recently ranked us among the top five law schools in preparing grads for big-firm practice: Duke, Michigan, Loyola-LA, Stanford, and Chicago, in that order.

A description of how we train practice-ready lawyers, practice area by practice area, can be found at: Our next issue, on training for transactional practice, will appear shortly.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Apr 27, 2015 8:41:04 AM

A few comments:

1) First, watch what employers hire; what they say isn't worth anything. Talk is cheap.

2) It's going to be extremely hard for experiential learning to take the place of experience. A recent grad who has a few years of experience will have far more than a fresh grad with a few hundred hours of of clinic/internship/etc.

Posted by: Barry | Apr 27, 2015 6:14:04 AM

Do employers really vocally demand practice ready lawyers? I've only ever heard that trite statement from law faculty. In my experience, legal employers want the same thing that all employers want: talent. There is a difference between someone who knows basic steps, and someone who can think critically to use those steps to obtain a favorable result. Sort of like a lab scientist who just knows all the equipment versus one who has the imagination to prove a new theory. The latter is always more valuable, and the former is cheap if not useless.

Posted by: JM | Apr 27, 2015 4:22:45 AM