Saturday, July 11, 2009

The blogosphere debate on the adequacy of law school training

The discussion begun by Paul Lippe, founder of the attorney networking site Legal OnRamp, criticizing the adequacy of law school training, which we first reported here, has finally gained traction and is now running hotter than a nitro-methane funny car.  Mr. Lippe didn't just direct his comments to curricular shortcomings, but also to the hubris of law professors who are disconnected from the needs of the practicing bar.

Among the first legal academics to respond was Indiana Professor Bill Henderson, a scholar on law firm practice.  He said that Mr. Lippe's post reminded him

of my youth in Cleveland, Ohio during the 1970s and 80s.  Lots of my friends' parents worked for General Motors, which offered high pay, amazing benefits, predictable hours, and long vacations.  No one else seemed to have it so good.   I remember thinking at the time that GM was both complacent and invincible.  It turned out that I was only half right.   So I worry about my own industry.  Do I have the mindset of a GM employee circa 1979?  God, I hope not.

Now comes this volley, lobbed by Florida State University law prof JB Ruhl:

Lippe repeatedly suggests that medical and business schools have got it right and law schools provide "inferior training." Oh really? So, when our nation is in the throes of a debate over the runaway costs of health care and the global economy is in a massive recession due largely to the utter largess and indulgence of our big business and investment industries, law schools should emulate medical and business schools? I think not. Rather, I suggest that medical and business schools are right up there with, if not ahead of, law schools in the need to examine their pedagogical models. In any event, it is not useful to compare medical, business, and law school models--they are three vastly different professions with distinct subject matters and professional pathways.

You can read the rest of Professor Ruhl's response to Lippe's criticism of law school complacency here.

So what do you think, dear reader?  Is Mr. Lippe's assessment that law schools are broken accurate or is he the misinformed outsider that Professor Ruhl suggests?

Hat tip to Stephanie West Allen.

I am the scholarship dude.


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I actually think that we need to divide the critique into litigation and transactional areas.

As to litigation, I'm not sure it's fair to say that law schools do a poor job of training law students. Most law schools have elaborate moot court programs, offer trial practice and have litigation focused legal writing classes. Perhaps they could focus more on document review skills (though that would be mighty boring) or, better yet, motion practice and deposition training as well. Nonetheless, when I graduated from law school and clerked for a judge in a trial court, I was definitely not lost, found the proceedings approachable, and found that learning state rules of procedure, amassing necessary forms, and, obviously, learning substantive law to be the areas I needed to improve upon. Perhaps these skills could be added to law school litigation training.

However, I ended up practicing as a transactional attorney, and I could not have been less prepared. I was surprised to discover that the vast majority of a 1L contracts course does not help you much in drafting and negotiating deals. Senior attorneys had to sit down and walk me through everything as if I'd never attended law school, and I definitely felt like I was starting from close to zero.

Posted by: Jason Mark Anderman | Jul 13, 2009 3:04:24 PM

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