Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Timesheet, Anyone?

Do you know how many times I've caught myself missing my timesheet since I left private practice four years ago?  Zero-point-zero-zero  (nod to Maya Rudolph).  There are a few things about the practice of law I miss, but, on the whole, teaching beats practice all to hell.  The vast majority of the tens of thousands of law students in this country will practice law in some capacity immediately upon graduation.  I've often wondered what my choice to teach says to my students about the practice of law and the life that awaits them.   

Recently, US News & World Report issued its List of Best Careers 2007University professor is one of the best careers while attorney is one of the "most overrated" careers.  Here's why USNWR thinks being an attorney is overrated:

Most lawyers' lives bear little resemblance to those of the hotshots on Law and Order. Even litigators spend lots of time drafting or poring over sheaves of detailed information and negotiating with other lawyers prone to contentiousness and chicanery. And most lawyers rarely go to trials, working instead as transactional attorneys who need to bill 2,000 hours a year or more to meet the firm's targets. That can mean long evenings drafting lengthy, airtight contracts or other documents. In the corporate world, many lawyers find little fulfillment and burn out.

Sound familiar?  This description of the profession stands in stark contrast to what drew students to the profession in the first place.

Many college students decide to go to law school by default. After all, a legal career promises prestige, money, and the chance to use the law to make a difference in society. Many aspiring attorneys also picture themselves as the lawyers on TV, making scintillating closing arguments in an expensive suit before a rapt jury.

Are USNWR's descriptions of the practice and students' reasons for wanting to become attorneys accurate?  If so, what, if anything, should/can we as law professors do about this disconnect?


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Professors can disabuse such students of their mistaken notions quickly, before they take on too much debt to escape law school. Then, professors can push a practice oriented curriculum to really prepare students for life after law school. Fewer, "Religion and Separation of State" classes, more drafting and writing. If students still want to be trial lawyers, make them spend their third year proving that they have the talent by forcing them to prepare and try "cases" as though they were attorneys. Either they'll figure out that they need to revise their expectations or they'll develop the skills to make their visions a reality.

Posted by: Joe | May 10, 2007 5:50:40 PM

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