Paul L. Caron

Monday, February 8, 2016

Wisconsin Law Review Debate:  Does Experiential Learning Improve J.D. Employment Outcomes?

Wisconsin LogoJason W. Yackee (Associate Professor of Law, Wisconsin), Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes?, 2015 Wis. L. Rev. 601 (blogged here):

[T]here 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.

Keith Findley (Assistant Professor of Law, Wisconsin), Assessing Experiential Legal Education: A Response to Professor Yackee, 2015 Wis. L. Rev. 627 (blogged here):

[T]he 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. ... [A]ssuming 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).

Robert R. Kuehn (Associate Dean, Clinical Education, Washington University; Former President, Clinical Legal Education Association), Measuring Clinical Legal Education's Employment Outcomes, 2015 Wis. L. Rev. 645 (blogged here):

Professor Yackee’s ambitious effort to develop a model to explain the tens of thousands of employer decisions and prescribe how schools should best educate students fails to demonstrate a statistically significant link, positive or negative, between law clinics (or even law journal or skills competitions) and J.D. employment outcomes.

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


It is simple: All of this "practice ready" crap is just lipstick on a pig or a chromed up Hyundai Excel. If there were jobs, clients and legal work, employment wouldn't be an issue. When I graduated from my T2 law school over two decades ago, I was a big inexperienced dummy and few fries short of a happy meal. Even a putz like me had 3 job offers. One firm was really upset when I quit to study for the bar exam. It's about work.....

Posted by: Captain Hruska Carswell, Continuance King | Feb 9, 2016 5:56:07 AM

The research design is very difficult, and perhaps impossible. To find out whether employers give a positive boost to experiential learning, one would need to compare the first job outcomes of people at roughly the same level of the class in the same law school who have and who have not a record of experiential learning.

Posted by: Bert Lazerow | Feb 8, 2016 1:03:55 PM

Not to bum everyone out about W&L, but let’s review: Admissions standards? Falling. 161/166/167 in 2010, 158/160/162 in 2015. That’s a pretty big drop. And enrollment fell anyway, from 144 to 119. Is that a result of waning interest in its law school? Yep. 3,972 applicants per the 2011 Form 509 down to 1,867 on the 2015 Form 509. Nearly the same number of offers, though, so effectively the school has doubled its acceptance rate in five years.

Is the school burning through money to get those students? Probably. Per those Form 509s again, W&L has gone from giving 267 of 407 students tuition discounts to giving 336 out of 370 students tuition discounts. This includes a near doubling of >50% tuition discounts. Has this hit the number of full-time faculty? Yep. Down from 35 to 26. It does not seem the picture of health to me.


The Co2014 ABA employment stats are virtually identical to those of the Co2013. ~80 out of 130-140 graduates with ft, lt, license-required jobs. ~25 unemployed and still seeking. 13-15 Biglaw. A half-dozen federal clerkships. Everyone else in the minor leagues in terms of jobs, prospects, and salaries. Of course, per their NALP reports, the median salary dropped from $69k in 2013 (57% reporting) to $60k in 2014 (61% reporting). While not as terrible as, say, Seton Hall, $60k is not a great return for a three-year professional degree that stickers at $46k/year tuition and nearly another $20k in living expenses.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 8, 2016 9:46:45 AM

"Does Experiential Learning Improve J.D. Employment Outcomes?"


- Graduate of the self-proclaimed most experiential law school in the country, which has managed to place more than 50% of its graduates in full-time, long-term, license-required jobs exactly once since 2011, when the ABA started its new employment reporting regime. It was interesting, however, to watch NUSL go from claiming that "on average 40% of graduates get legal jobs with a co-op employer" to admitting that only 42-48% of graduates were getting legal jobs within nine months of graduation. Yeah, no misrepresentations there...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 8, 2016 7:48:47 AM

An examination of Prof. Yackee's research design suggests that he may not fully understand how JD employment markets work. His independent variable is number of positions in 2012-2013 in faculty supervised law school clinics, by school, as a percentage of JD enrollment. His dependent variable is percentage of 2013 graduates hired into long-term, full-time jobs for which a JD is required.

There are several problems with this design.

First, the kind of training law students need to become practice-ready varies by practice area. In litigation, for example, a course on taking and defending depositions can be useful. In tax, by contrast, students cannot begin to become useful until they have a solid foundation in the core doctrine. The way we figure this out at Loyola-LA is to convene advisory committees of practitioners in relevant practice areas and ask them what kind of training they would like our grads to have.

As a result, prospective litigators take courses on jury selection, cross examination, depositions, evidence for trial lawyers (as opposed to for the bar), expert witnesses, and opening and closings, among other things. None of these courses are structured as clinics. None would be included in his study.

Prospective tax lawyers, by contrast, enroll in our Joint JD/Tax LLM program -- the only program of its kind in the United States -- which gives students rigorous training in corporate and partnership tax, timing, and the taxation of property transactions (the core of what business tax lawyers need to know) between their 1L and 2L years. By the time employers come on campus at the beginning of their 2L years, students in the program are tax lawyers, and can take on problems that are more commonly assigned to 2nd year law firm associates. Employers regularly come to Loyola-LA to interview and hire these students, and students from higher-ranked schools regularly visit to get our unique training and be hired by those employers. None of this is captured by Prof. Yackee's research design.

A second problem is that it takes time to develop the kind of reputation that leads employers to hire preferentially out of a given school. Having more clinics in 2012-2013 should not lead anyone to expect that employers will flock to hire 2013 grads. That Prof. Yackee finds no relationship shouldn't surprise anyone.

Third, what leads employers to hire out of, say, Harvard, is very different from what leads them to hire out of Loyola-LA, which in turn is very different from what leads them to hire out of a school further down the US News rankings. Combining all such schools into a single regression almost certainly masks real relationships between what schools do and how their grads fare. To report, as Prof. Yackee does, no statistically significant relationship across the entire field tells us little about what is going on at various levels of legal education.

Finally, Prof. Yackee's study violates basic principles of research design. One is supposed to postulate a null hypothesis and then show that that null hypothesis is not true at a statistically significant level. Merely finding no statistically significant relationship between two sets of data is not research -- indeed, it would not pass muster before any PhD committee.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Feb 8, 2016 7:32:31 AM

The author's focus on W&L should probably note that W&L's employment outcomes are vastly improved for the Class of 2015 (and to a lesser extent for the Class of 2014): This is primarily attributable to a revamping of the career services office, better outreach to W&L's strong alumni network and stronger bar passage rates. I would suspect if the author ran the study using 2015 data (which should be available in about 2 months), and adjusted for school funded jobs (which W&L does not use at this point), he would get a vastly different view of that particular school.

Posted by: Dubya Nell | Feb 8, 2016 6:20:16 AM

Who bears the burden of proof on this one? It seems to me that it isn't enough to suggest that Yackee fails to demonstrate a link between hiring and experiential education. Instead, it seems that the proponents should offer some affirmative evidence to persuade us.

Posted by: Matt B. | Feb 8, 2016 5:20:42 AM

I think that the presumptions are wrong. The question should not be whether experiential legal learning makes a candidate more subject to hire by a firm. It is whether experiential learning can provide sufficient skills for the graduate to provide services to a client. Believe it or not, everybody is not percolating out of law schools going "hire me, hire me." Some of these graduates gain their license and represent clients the next day.

Experiential learning, to me, is about launching a graduate with sufficient professional skills that they may immediately commence representing clients.

Posted by: Tom N. | Feb 8, 2016 5:12:10 AM