Saturday, January 15, 2011

"Law schools must reform: They need to leave the ivory tower and teach practical lawyering"

The New York Times article from last week is still reverberating both within and outside the legal press.  This editorial,  by Duquesne Law Prof Bruce Antkowiak, comes from from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette:

Law firms have always chaffed at the notion of hiring graduates and paying them substantial salaries while simultaneously teaching them (at the firm's expense) what they need to know to practice law. Unlike medical school graduates, who have one foot in the hospital and one in the classroom during much of their schooling, many law graduates need directions to find the courthouse. In tough economic times, firms have simply decided to get out of the business of providing post-graduate training for lawyers.

You would think that law schools would make fundamental changes to their programs in the wake of the job crisis, fearing that law degrees might someday be assessed like a Ph.D. in poetry -- soul-satisfying but potentially impractical. A few have responded dramatically, but most have held fast to the traditional law school model or made superficial changes. Why the resistance?

For many law schools, their institutional identity dictates that they be largely disconnected from the practice of law. This is done (I suppose) in the belief that we "in the academy" will thereby establish ourselves as an intellectual elite worthy of praise for the intricacy of our philosophical analysis.

Many of us write scholarly articles unconcerned that practicing lawyers never read them but in hopes that other professors will. We do not rank ourselves based upon the skill level of our graduates but support a national publication's ranking system that gives the highest single value (25 percent) to what other law schools think of our program.

To call us residents of an ivory tower may be giving us more credit than we deserve. Residents of ivory towers sometimes climb the parapet and get a glimpse of the outside world.

The legal profession allowed us to get away with this for a long time. But no more. Much like the secluded academy of philosophers who congratulated themselves upon reaching the ultimate definition of man as "a featherless biped," law schools must recognize that someone from the real world has just thrown a plucked chicken over the walls of the tower.

Being disconnected from the profession was wrong even in times when our graduates could find work regardless of how disconnected we were. But in this day and time, when many graduate in debt and have to scramble for the few positions available, staying disconnected in the face of their plight is a moral failing of the first order.

We will not fail them if we take up the challenge to teach more than just doctrine and the process of legal reasoning. We must teach the deeper and richer art of lawyering -- an integrated appreciation of the intellectual, practical and ethical dimensions in which law operates in real life.
You can read the rest here
Hat tip to the TaxProf Blog.

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