November 22, 2011
Newsflash: Law Schools Don't Teach Law Students To Be Lawyers
There was an article published in the New York Times last Sunday, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering, and it’s worth reading, even if we knew most of it already. In summary, the legal academy doesn’t teach law students how to be lawyers. New associates don’t know the basics of transactional law and clients don’t want to pay for them to learn the ropes on their nickel. As a consequence, plum law jobs are drying up, which means the market for law graduates is bad.
Several commentaries about the article have appeared. One in The Atlantic, Why Law Schools Are So Bad at Creating Lawyers (and How to Fix It), suggests that large and prestigious law firms send an ultimatum to schools such as Harvard that they won’t hire graduates until the curriculum changes to teach more practical skills. I think it would take the economics to get a lot worse before that happens, but these are strange times. Who knows what could happen.
The Times article notes that the curriculum is the way it is (teaching theory) by design. That may surprise those who do not work in academics, but it’s true. The only time law schools embrace members of the bench and bar is when they are rich enough to donate, lend prestige through their accomplishments, or act as customers to CLE offerings. Very few schools, even those that recognize the divide between theory and practice do anything radical to tilt teaching to practical skills. This is due to the law school inferiority complex, not wanting to seem to be a trade school.
I don’t understand that myself. I would worry less about what my academic peers think of my standing of an academic discipline. Medical schools bridge that gap with intern programs before graduates are licensed as doctors. Business school graduates are taught how to manipulate markets and money. I don’t know what the business graduate market is like, but I hardly see any stories about it compared to that of law. It must be doing well enough. Both professions are trades in a sense, as one can buy services from those holding medical and business degrees. Why not law?
Then there is the scholarship. According to the Times article, a study shows that some 40% of law review articles are not cited in cases or other law review articles. This scholarship, however, is what drives the promotion train in law schools. There are unfriendly quotes from Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Breyer on the state of legal scholarship, both of whom dismiss the value of current faculty writing. Chief Justice Roberts identifies it as not “much help to the bar.” True dat Mr. Chief Justice.
I can appreciate this myself as I provide research services to faculty. I roll my eyes at some of the stuff I find but pass it along, nonetheless. For a bit of fun, check out one of my favorite articles that parodies the whole postmodern thing, Pomobabble: Postmodern Newspeak1 and Constitutional “Meaning” for the Uninitiated, by Dennis W. Arrow, 96 Mich. L. Rev. 461 (1998). It runs some 228 pages, most of them being footnotes. The title, as indicated, contains the first footnote of the article. It received some pointed criticism at the time it came out as it exposed some faculty sensitivity concerning the type of scholarship popular in law reviews. Some either couldn’t or refused to get the joke. For a bit more fun, see this short note in U.S. News.
I agree with the conclusion of the various articles that law schools aren’t about to change their operation soon. What we have now works very comfortably for those providing the service. We’ll need quite different circumstances to break that comfort. [MG]