Friday, March 8, 2013
Three semesters of law school followed by an apprenticeship will better prepare students for practice
Below is an excerpt from an essay by Professor Michael Hoeflich (Kansas) called "Rediscovering Apprenticeship" in which the author suggests substituting apprenticeships for almost two years of law school coursework as a way of both reducing the debt burden on law school grads while also better preparing them for practice. Food for thought.
Professor Hoeflich's essay appears in full at 61 U. Kan. L. Rev. 547 (2012).
The debt burden young law graduates face combined with the changing shape of the legal employment market is unlikely to revert back to that of the 1980s, when law schools were still cheap and jobs were plentiful, and requires a far more radical solution than simply limiting class size. The time has come for the organized bar and the Supreme Court to consider another solution--reinstituting a version of the traditional method of legal education: apprenticeship.Professor Tamanaha argues in his book that the great structural failing of American legal education is that there is no differentiation in legal education while there is extreme differentiation in the legal profession. What he means by this is simple. The legal profession is not organized around a single business model. Lawyers work in a wide range of professional settings. Lawyers in private practice may work in corporate mega firms, in small to medium size general practice firms, in small specialist boutique firms, or in solo practice. In the public sector, lawyers may work for the federal government, state or local government, or the military. One of the great advantages of a law license is that it permits lawyers to work in a remarkable range of professional settings.Given the diversity of legal jobs, it is, therefore, quite strange that legal education in the United States today is so rigidly built around a single model. Since the early twentieth century in most states, including Kansas, law schools in collaboration with the organized bar and judiciary have recognized only a single path to a law license: graduation from an accredited law school. Law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) typically require that students complete an undergraduate degree plus three years of law school--a total of seven years of higher education--to be eligible for the bar examination. Some law schools allow students to reduce these seven years to six by enrolling in an approved “3-3” program. But these six years of expensive university education is the minimum that any would-be lawyer must undergo and pay for to qualify to take the Kansas bar examination. I would suggest--much to some of my colleagues' horror--that this is still too long and costly a path to the bar for many students. Instead, I believe that for many students a four-year undergraduate program followed by three semesters at law school and a period of apprenticeship in a lawyer's office or judge's chambers would more than suffice.