Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Article lays blame for lack of legal skills training on BigLaw.

An article posted yesterday at The Atlantic called Why Law Schools Are So Bad at Creating Lawyers (and how to fix it) is sort of a response to David Segal's most recent New York Times article, What They Don't Teach Law Students: Lawyering.  However, the author of the Atlantic article says BigLaw, not the schools, should be blamed for not pushing for more skills training in the curriculum. The author suggests that if the major firms threatened top schools with a boycott in favor of 2nd and 3rd tier schools that place a greater emphasis on skills training, curricular reform would follow throughout legal academia. I say fat chance of that happening; BigLaw will always recruit the top candidates from the best schools.  Though there's significant pressure these days from clients to stop footing the bill to train new lawyers, the path to the top firms will continue to be, generally speaking, through the top schools.  BigLaw might try to solve the problem in other ways, such as adopting apprenticeship programs (here and here), but I don't think it's realistic to expect BigLaw to change its recruiting practices in any significant way. An excerpt from the Atlantic article:

[I]f law students aren't learning what they need in order to succeed as real live lawyers, it's not fair to lay all the blame on academia. Law firms have been guilty accomplices. And in the end, it's the firms who are going to need to force change.

How? It's time to stop hiring students from Harvard Law. Or at least threaten to.

. . . . 

For years, they simply bought whatever law schools were selling. Instead of expecting the schools to teach J.D.'s practical skills, they treated them as glorified head-hunting services from which they could draw raw talent. Even when schools offered up programs such as legal clinics, which let students represent underprivileged clients under the supervision of a licensed attorney, the response from the industry was minimal. To this day, hiring partners at elite firms still mostly look for students with high GPAs and law journal experience--experiences that, as Megan McArdle would tell you, were probably pretty similar to their own.

So firms have reinforced the very education system they now say falls short. The schools haven't had an incentive to rethink their model. And while the bad press may force reform around the edges, it's hard to imagine the legal academy making wholesale changes on its own accord. After all, it's been working on the same basic model for more than a century.

No. To change the schools, law firms need to change their own behavior.

. . . . 

Imagine what would happen if a coalition of elite law firms approached every Ivy League law school and gave them an ultimatum: Change your curriculum, or in five years we will stop hiring your graduates. They could just as easily go to a group of lower-ranked law schools and offer to start hiring more graduates if they make the same curriculum changes. It would require accepting the possibility of hiring outside of the most elite institutions. But frankly, that might add some much needed diversity to firms anyway.

I imagine the results would be dramatic. In the end, the most important thing to a law school's reputation these days is who hires its students. And where the Ivies go, the rest of legal academia will go.

You can continue reading here.


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