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

Monday, November 19, 2018

What Are Law Schools Training Students For?

Forbes:  What Are Law Schools Training Students For?, by Mark A. Cohen (CEO, Legal Mosaic):

The legal profession and the trillion-dollar global industry are undergoing a transformation. The seminal elements of legal practice—differentiated expertise, experience, skills, and judgment—remain largely unchanged. The delivery of legal services is a different story altogether. New business models, tools, processes, and resources are reconfiguring the industry, providing legal consumers with improved access and elevated customer satisfaction from new delivery sources. Law is entering the age of the consumer and bidding adieu to the guild that enshrined lawyers and the myth of legal exceptionalism. That’s good news for prospective and existing legal consumers.

The news is challenging for law schools, most of whom seem impervious to marketplace changes that are reshaping what it means to be a lawyer and how and for whom they will work. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity (NACIQI), a branch of the Department of Education, rebuked the American Bar Association (ABA) in 2016 for its lax law school oversight and poor “student outcomes.” Paul LeBlanc, a NACIQI member, concluded that the ABA was “out of touch with the profession.”

Law schools have made some strides during the past few years-- experiential learning, legal technology, entrepreneurship, legal innovation, and project management courses,   are becoming standard fare. A far bigger—and more important step would be for the legal Academy to forge alignment with the marketplace. That would be a “win-win-win” for students, law schools, and legal providers/consumers. Students would be exposed to the “real world” and the skills, opportunities, and direction it is taking. The Academy would acquire context, use-cases, and an understanding of consumer challenges and needs—a strong foundation from which to remodel legal education and training, address the "skills gap," as well as to improve “student outcomes.” Legal providers/consumers would benefit from a talent pool better prepared to provide solutions to the warp-speed pace and complex challenges of business. ...

Law schools must become better aligned with the marketplace. It’s consumers—not lawyers-- that now decide how and when lawyers are deployed. This is a path previously traveled by physicians, accountants, and other professions. Service professions—like businesses--must serve the needs of consumers. Those needs are not static. That’s why law schools cannot remain static and must adapt more fluid curricula to meet the needs of legal consumers, not their own.

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Comments

More claptrap from the consultants who hope to profit handsomely and personally in a fruitless effort to bridge the alleged gap between law schools and the business environment. Cohen ignores the fact that law schools are, for the most part, departments of universities and thus have an obligation, first and foremost, to generate and distribute knowledge. They do not (and largely should not) exist to train grunts for corporate America. In California there are many freestanding non-ABA law schools that try to play the role of simple "trade school." Guess what? Demand for their "product" on both ends (entering JD students and employers seeking to hire JDs) is far lower than the demand for the output of law schools that pursue knowledge autonomously from the demands of the market.

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Nov 19, 2018 11:49:33 AM

If this is the BEST way to protect the public from incompetent lawyers, then why don't current members of the CA Bar have to RE-TAKE this exam every few years to establish that they aren't a danger to the public. This is a REAL QUESTION BTW. I just don't understand why lawyers who passed when the cut score equations are were set differently are considered "competent" due to what appear to be arbitrary factors. Please enlighten me (the idiot who failed by approx. 30 points).

Posted by: sarah parker | Nov 19, 2018 10:51:09 PM

"Cohen ignores the fact that law schools are, for the most part, departments of universities and thus have an obligation, first and foremost, to generate and distribute knowledge. They do not (and largely should not) exist to train grunts for corporate America."

One does wonder if Steve knows that the most popular undergraduate major is business and the most popular graduate degree is the MBA.

" Demand for their "product" on both ends (entering JD students and employers seeking to hire JDs) is far lower than the demand for the output of law schools that pursue knowledge autonomously from the demands of the market. "

Steve is of course too humble to admit that the "market" deemed that 13% of his law school's (Santa Clara) most recent crop of graduates should still be unemployed 10 months after graduation. The previous year that figure stood at 20%. And 30% the year before that. And...

That there is an increasingly wide gap between law schools and the business of law is self-evident to every lawyer who doesn't draw a paycheck from a law school.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Nov 19, 2018 10:58:18 PM

The only reason I can see for not completely reformatting the way law is taught is because it will cost law schools a lot of money to change. But, it needs to happen. I can honestly say that everything I learned in law school could have been taught in about one semester; studying for the bar exam taught me more than I learned in 3 years of law school. And I also came out of law school with no idea how to do any real lawyering. It is a complete disservice to students to force them to waste 3 years of their life and a lot of money to jump over a pointless hurdle that barely teaches them anything.

Law school should be focused on 3 things: 1. learning the specific laws of the state the law school is in and how to find and understand those laws; 2. Learning how to apply those laws in practice to solve real world problems (court room and transactional); and 3. Learning legal and scientific reasoning. Scientific reasoning is the most important current gap that needs to be remedied. This needs to be a mandatory bar course as a first year course.

It is embarrassing that attorneys can graduate and step into a court room without ever learning that juries are no better than a flip of a coin at detecting liars; that eye witness testimony is almost completely worthless; that human perception is imperfect; and that memory is often faulty.

We need to stop teaching attorneys to think like lawyers and start teaching them to think like scientists and problem solvers. That is how I try to focus my classes. I teach only the actual laws the students will be using and how we can problem solve for clients within the boundaries of those laws.

Posted by: acauthorn | Nov 20, 2018 12:09:27 PM

UNE,

Thank you for highlighting the significant improvement in employment outcomes for SCU graduates. Of course, this is entirely consistent with my longstanding thesis that such outcomes are cyclical not secular.

Nonetheless, your comment is both a non-sequitur and an ad hominem attack.

As to the latter, it is, of course, irrelevant to an assessment of my substantive argument that I teach at SCU, no matter where my school stands in the law school rankings. If it were relevant, then presumably you would be willing to share with us where you work or what you do professionally, so we could assess that fact’s relevance to your opinions on law school.

As to the former, of course, the employment outcomes at any law school are linked closely to the overall ranking and demand for that school’s JD program. It is no surprise, therefore, that SCU’s outcomes are not as good as Stanford’s nor as bad as Lincoln’s.

With its multiple pathways to the JD (ABA, non-ABA, for profit, non-profit, independent, university affiliated law schools) California remains a good natural experiment that demonstrates the validity of my comments about relative demand.

Posted by: Steve Diamond | Nov 23, 2018 3:35:43 PM