Monday, November 21, 2011
Yesterday’s New York Times carried another in a long line of articles (which go back at least to the 1980’s) complaining that law schools emphasize the theoretical over the useful and, as a result, don’t teach law students how to be lawyers. As is typical, the author concludes that law schools need to increase their emphasis on skills training.
The article starts off with (and seems to rest on) an example that is pretty lame. Apparently, three first year associates at Drinker Biddle didn’t know that you file a certificate of merger with the secretary of state to effectuate a merger.
Let’s assume for arguments sake that this lack of knowledge is representative of the typical law school graduate going into a transactional practice. So what?
As I have discussed before, law schools have a comparative advantage of teaching certain competencies; law firms have a comparative advantage of teaching others. Each should do what they do best.
Among other things, law schools have a comparative advantage over law firms in teaching deep substantive knowledge of complex subjects necessary to practice law. For example, law firms simply cannot teach securities law the way a law school can (if at all). A thorough understanding of complex material like this requires voluminous outside readings and in-class lectures for a concentrated period of time.
On the other hand, you know what law firms can teach pretty quickly? How to call an outside service to file a certificate of merger.
Of course law schools also may have a comparative advantage in teaching certain practical skills. I’m all for courses in contract drafting and negotiation, and I teach a transactional skills course myself. But the issue is a little more complex than the NYT article suggests.
For more of my thoughts on this perennial topic, see What Law Schools Should Teach Future Transactional Lawyers: Perspectives from Practice.