May 23, 2012
Massachusetts Bar Calls For More Practice Skills in Law Schools to Spur Employment Opportunities For Grads
The Massachusetts Bar Association (MBA) issued a report last week that calls for greater practical training for law students as a way of making them more competitive, that is, hirable, in a down market. The report takes into account how medical and dental schools operate and the lack of underemployment for graduates. There is a projected shortage of skilled medical personnel in the coming years. The law market isn’t quite the same in that medical schools have to invest heavily in a scientific infrastructure where law schools do not. Nonetheless, medical graduates have more opportunities to gain experience before going into actual practice than the average law graduate. That makes an immediate impact on the employment prospects in the medical field.
The report calls for more practical experience for law students by adjusting the curriculum in several ways. One would be to place a heavier emphasis on externships. Another would be to enhance transactional training through legal writing programs. Much as students work through problems in trial advocacy classes, legal writing programs could create contract drafting problems as group simulations. I know that some law schools do this already. The report notes that despite previous studies on legal education urging a greater teaching of practical skills, schools make few changes to the established curriculum.
I harken back to Professor Stanley Fish and his response to David Segal’s articles in the New York Times on how law schools are more theoretical than practical. His push back stated a need for students to understand the law as a subject as much as a tactic if not more. The subject informs the strategy of a case. I agreed with him in an earlier post but I still believe that there is room in the curriculum for teaching practical skills. Not every Yale graduate is destined for a faculty slot at another law school. Calling for the teaching of practical skills does not diminish legal scholarship in the academy.
The MBA report goes further than suggesting changes to the curriculum. The reality is that schools operate in ways that increase position in the U.S. News rankings. What better way to get schools on the bandwagon than to change the ranking formula to include the teaching of practice skills. It’s an interesting idea. Withering criticism from Congress, the press, and even lawsuits by graduates have only motivated changes to the way statistics are reported, not the way schools teach the law. Hey U.S. News, the Massachusetts Bar has some ideas for you.
The Report of the Task Force on Law, the Economy, and Underemployment is available here. A press release about the report from the MBA is here. An interview with Eric Parker, the co-chair of the Task Force that produced the report is here. [MG]