Monday, April 23, 2012
Over at Inside the Law School Scam, Professor Campos has started a series of posts to discuss commonly held misconceptions about the current "law school crisis." In Part 1, which he posted today, he takes on one of the biggest complaints we hear these days that law schools don't actually prepare students to practice law. While these kinds of complaints have always circulated in certain segments within the legal academy, David Segal's piece last year in the NYT brought popular attention to the issue.
Professor Campos correctly points out that even if law schools tried to respond to the criticism by graduating more "practice-ready" students, it doesn't change the fact there aren't nearly enough jobs to go around and many people think the situation isn't going to get any better (Indeed, it might even get worse as technology and off-shoring further erode the domestic market for legal services). Campos then notes that most skills training - the hands-on, clinical kind not the "have-students-draft-a-contract-in-class" kind - requires small classes with low student-faculty ratios. Therefore, unless schools can come up with some outside-the-box ways to deliver this kind of training, the net effect will be to increase the cost of law school, push our students into further debt and thus leave our students even less able to financially compete in the legal services marketplace. So, we can offer more skills training to quell the critics but it won't help students one whit; to the contrary, it might make things worse for them.
I can't say I disagree with a portion of this. It's a conundrum we've discussed before on this blog. Adding more hands-on skills training opportunities usually means hiring more faculty which adds significantly to the school's overhead, though skills profs are most often paid a lot less than their doctrinal colleagues. Thus, solving the problem is going to mean breaking from tradition by shifting priorities away from professors who spend most of their time away from the classroom working on scholarship toward those who spend most of their time in small classrooms teaching legal skills. The elite schools will never go this route nor will those that aspire to be among the "elites." But it is a viable option for schools that either don't want to play the USNWR rankings game or can't realistically compete in that realm. For those schools, a cost-effective approach to skills training might be the only way to survive the law school shake-out which some believe is coming.