Thursday, March 3, 2011

What happens when the BigLaw tail wags the law school dog

You may have seen the recent report from the National Law Journal showing which law schools sent the most the grads to BigLaw (U. Chicago topped the list). The first 10 schools on the list sent a significant number of grads into BigLaw.  But once you get below school 20, the numbers drop off quickly.  Looking at the top 50 law schools on NLJ's list, on average 27.3% of grads went into BigLaw in 2010 which represents a drop from 30.3% in 2009.  Thus, once you get outside the small cadre of law schools at the top, the vast majority of grads who go into private practice end up in small(er) firms (or solo) where starting salaries are much lower and the skill set is different (While BigLaw associates may need a background in international law, small firm associates need to know how to take a deposition and conduct a client interview).

This post from the Belly of the Beast called "Law School Deception II" contains a pointed criticism of one top school for allegedly pandering a bit too much to the curricular needs of BigLaw since fewer students these days are finding jobs there and even the ones who do won't stay long.  BOTB is also critical of schools that use BigLaw starting salaries as a guide to setting tuition for the same reason. 

The conundrum, though, is that a traditional BigLaw curriculum is relatively cheap to deliver (on the assumption that it's heavy on large, lecture-type theory classes and light on small, closely-supervised practice skill classes).  But we know that the vast majority of grads instead go into smaller practices where there's less supervision and thus a greater need to receive skills training in law school so they can hit the ground running.  The salaries are smaller too which means law schools have to find a way to deliver closely-supervised skills training (e.g. low student-teacher ratio classes) at a cost that allows grads to service their tuition debt and still pay the rent.  This isn't going to be easy.


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