Sunday, October 31, 2010

Student authored law review comment argues for 4th year of law school to incorporate more skills training while helping the poor

Here's a law review comment written by a student at Florida Coastal School of Law entitled "Upholding the oath of competency while filling the indigent void: why the law school curriculum should be extended to a fourth year."  From the introduction:

By all accounts, the current economic outlook for law students entering the job market is bleak. Some law students who cannot find jobs have been forced to take temporary work paying a mere twenty dollars an hour.  In the midst of the current economic crisis, this country’s most prominent firms are hiring approximately half as many students as they did during the previous year.  In the past, approximately two-thirds of law school graduates secured jobs prior to graduation; however, many of the 2009 graduates were without jobs just prior to receiving their diplomas.  This is perhaps “the worst attorney job market in years.”  The scariest part of this bleak legal job market is that if law students are not able to find employment with firms that will teach them how to practice law, they will have to hang their shingle and go it alone, severely unprepared.  In essence, a newly licensed attorney can begin to do legal work on behalf of a client without ever spending a day in a law office, without ever talking to a client, or without even drafting a single genuine legal document.  Perhaps this is the reason that solo practitioners and firms of five attorneys or less have the highest incidence of legal malpractice claims. Currently, law schools are not preparing students with the practical skills needed for success after graduation, leaving students in a potentially career ending situation if they cannot find an experienced lawyer to adequately train them to be successful attorneys  The legal profession should demand more.

This shortfall in current American legal education directly relates to the growing inadequacy of legal representation for the poor by way of a solution to each problem. In the landmark decision of Gideon v. Wainwright in 1963, the United States Supreme Court guaranteed the right to the assistance of counsel for indigent defendants in state court criminal prosecutions. However, in Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, a termination of parental rights case, the United States Supreme Court placed an almost insurmountable roadblock in the way of establishing a per se right to counsel in civil actions, halting Gideon’s progression.  Since the decision handed down in Lassiter, the government continues to provide limited avenues to aid indigent civil litigants, but these efforts suffer from inadequate funding, resources, and manpower needed to meet the legal needs of the nation’s poor. These are the two main problems in the American legal system that this Article focuses on: a lack of civil representation for the poor and a lack of proper practical training for law students entering the workforce. This Article examines how a solution for the latter can help provide a solution to the former. Part II of the Article explores the current justice gap in America. Part III explores the inefficiencies of our current legal education system in preparing new attorneys for the practice of law. Part IV surveys other educational models and legal education systems for guidance on how to mend our broken system. Finally, Part V proposes the addition of a fourth year of law school as a solution to the problems identified in Parts II and III.

Read the full article here.


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