Friday, October 23, 2009

The State of Legal Education? 'Absolutely Wretched'?

At least that's what one professor thinks:
A report out of Colorado on Wednesday provides even further evidence to support what we all know to be true: it’s a terrifically bad time to be in law school.

According to this story in Colorado Law Week, only about 35 percent of the University of Colorado School of Law’s class of 2009 had jobs at graduation, down from 55 percent the year before...

Oh how we wish this trend were limited to Denver, or Colorado, or even the western half of the U.S. But it’s not. It’s a trend that’s playing out again and again at just about every law school in the country.

[M]ight the law schools themselves be to blame, at least in part?

Yes, says Rick Bales, a law professor at the University of Northern Kentucky. Writing over at Prawfsblog, Bales says law schools have been “absolutely wretched” at responding to the shifting marketplace...

Ask any law firm hiring partner whether law schools are doing a good job of educating lawyers and you are likely to get an earful. Neither law firm clients nor cash-strapped government employers are willing or able to subsidize lawyer training the way they were in the past. Legal employers want to hire graduates who can take a deposition or draft a merger agreement now. But law schools are not delivering. The law schools that figure out how to do so – while still teaching the doctrine necessary for bar passage and the critical-thinking skills necessary for solving complex legal problems – will find themselves at a substantial competitive advantage over other law schools.

I will say coming out of engineering school, I felt well trained to hit the ground running when I started working for industry. I felt well prepared by my MBA program to immediately apply it to project management and leading teams. My PhD program has definitely helped me become a better teacher and researcher. What about law school? I feel much more prepared this year than before for legal work, but it is no where near the level of preparation I fell like I received in my other programs. I've lost track of how many of my lawyer friends complain that they don't use anything they learned in law school for their jobs. Do law schools serve primarily as a vehicle for rent seeking and barrier to entry to the legal profession than as a substantive educational experience? What does the preponderance of the evidence imply?

What puzzles me is why legal education is the way it is? I love many of my professors and most of my classmates. Most of them are highly intelligent, highly motivated people. There seems to be something systematic in the structure of legal education that creates many inefficiencies that no one seems to be rectifying. Do ABA regulations keep entrepreneurs form discovering ways to remedy these issues? Are law schools too concerned about US News rankings to take risks with innovating their programs? Are law schools so concerned about ranking their students for prospective employers that they make things needlessly obscure and difficult to force differentiation between students? Is there too much demand for legal education that suppliers feel little incentive to innovate?

Here's another interesting puzzle no one has been able to explain to me yet (without talking about some form of rent seeking): Why is there a third year of law school? Why not just make it two?

1 comment:

Shawn said...

*psst*...systemic, I think, not systematic.

I wonder how much is due to rankings systems? 'you get what you measure,' after all.