Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Aspiring lawyers will learn more practical skills, stop accruing debt sooner and start making money faster.
Here's Mr. Lat's contribution to the series of NYT's editorials on the broken law school model (we reported Bryan Garner's contribution here and Professor Fruehwald offered his thoughts here).
Before the rise of law schools, lawyers were trained through apprenticeship. “Apprenticeship involved learning the law the way we expect someone today to learn plumbing: in the workplace, as a practical trade,” writes the Yale legal historian John Langbein. “You learn plumbing by working with, observing and imitating an experienced master.”
The modern practice of law, with a proliferation of increasingly technical specialties and subspecialties, is more complicated than plumbing. Formal apprenticeship has fallen by the wayside as a method for training lawyers. Adding apprenticeship back into the system could make legal education shorter, less costly and more practical.
The core of the legal curriculum is covered in the first year of law school. One could easily imagine law school, in terms of formal classroom instruction, lasting two years instead of three and costing two-thirds as much.
After two years, graduates could start working as apprentices for practicing lawyers and being paid, albeit modestly, perhaps like paralegals or medical residents. The bar exam could be administered at the end of an apprenticeship, or in multiple parts at different points in the process, like the medical board exam. Successful completion of an apprenticeship and passage of the bar exam would qualify an individual as a lawyer.
Under this system, aspiring lawyers would stop accruing debt and start earning money at an earlier point. As apprentices, they would learn about the actual practice of law, addressing the common complaint among employers and clients that young lawyers, fresh out of school, lack practical knowledge. Employers who hire apprentices would receive inexpensive labor and could train these workers to their specifications. This model, balancing the theoretical and practical, is similar to what’s used in Canada and Britain, where legal education is less expensive and more practice-oriented than in the United States.
Check out additional thoughts from Mr. Lat about the apprenticeship model of legal ed. here, via ATL.