Sunday, February 27, 2011

Do law school "specialty programs" attract students? Do they help students get jobs?

Law school applications are down. The word is getting out to prospective students that the job market is awful and may not improve anytime soon, if at all.  Yet new law schools keep getting built.  Step outside the top tier and competition for students is going to intensify.  Perhaps some  schools will even have to close.  Law schools, like the grads they turn out, are going to have to get serious about marketing themselves to stay in business.

Offering "specialty programs" - such as intellectual property, international law or tax - is one strategy more schools might try. But do they work in terms of attracting students and then helping them get jobs once they graduate?

Back in 2003, Kevin Houchin of the Lawyerist blog, wrote a seminar paper while in law school called "Specialization in Law School Curricula: A National Study" in which he surveyed prospective law students, matriculated law students, law grads, employers and members of the NALP about those questions.  Among the findings:

  • Among prospective law students, the opportunity to specialize at the J.D. level is definitely a factor in the law school decision. While it was probably not the deciding factor for the majority of prospective law students, the opportunity to specialize can be a deciding factor when a prospect is choosing between “second-choice” schools.
  • Among law grads, about half reported that the opportunity to specialize in a particular subject during law school was unimportant to their decision about which law school to attend while 5% reported that specialization opportunities was critical to their decision.
  • With respect to employers, the hiring professionals who participated in the study indicated that completion of a specialized program does not necessarily give graduates a competitive advantage in the job market, with the possible exception of those hiring in tax and patent practices. In some cases, specialization might even hurt a candidate’s prospects of employment if the hiring attorney feels that the specialized program has hampered the student’s general legal education.
  • In stark contrast to the view of the employers surveyed, most prospective and current law students felt that participation in a specialized program makes them more attractive to potential employers.
  • The few law faculty members who participated in the survey expressed the fear that offering speciality legal study programs comes at the expense of providing students with training in the fundamentals which schools at present struggle to cover sufficiently.  One faculty member called "specialty programs" a "hoax" and "the worst marketing gimmick law schools have come up with (right after the US News rankings and just before the glossy brochure)."

You can read Mr. Houchin's full report, all 82 pages complete with lots of bar graphs illustrating survey results from the various constituents, here.


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