Monday, May 6, 2013

Though law school application have plummeted, the legal profession itself will thrive

That's the message from Professor Richard Epstein (NYU) in this Wall Street Journal published book review of Steven Harper's The Lawyer's Bubble.  Harper is also the author of the great blog The Belly of the Beast which reports on the changes undertaking the profession and the law school "crisis." In his book review, Professor Epstein challenges Harper's assertion that the legal profession, and BigLaw in particular, is in trouble.  "A bubble may have burst, but not for the high end of the profession or for the thousands of attorneys working in specialized niches" says Professor Epstein.

And when it comes to legal education, Professor Epstein also takes issue with Harper's assertion that the old guard professoriate, wedded to the primacy of scholarship and traditional law school pedagogy, is responsible for a disconnect between what employers want and what law schools are producing.  To the contrary, argues Epstein, employers want law schools to produce smart people, not graduates who possess dubious technical skills yet lack depth of understanding. 

[Harper's] recipe for change includes large doses of hands-on instruction on business relations and practice skills. But law schools can't just be "practical training" centers, as Mr. Harper would have them; they must make sure that their students grasp the fundamentals of legal theory and doctrine. Future lawyers must also be capable of connecting law with collateral disciplines ranging from corporate finance to game theory to cognitive psychology.

That is what I teach, and that is also what firms want when they hire me to work on complex legal problems. The best lawyers I know don't want law schools to turn out graduates with less knowledge and more gimmicks; they want better-educated lawyers who can hit the ground running. If 50 years ago students could make good use of three years of a law-school education, they certainly can do so in today's vastly more complicated world.

You can read Professor Epstein's full book review of The Lawyer Bubble here.


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