Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Should law schools retool the curriculum to help students find jobs outside the law?

Here's a "different" approach to retooling the law school curriculum in response to the present "crisis" in legal ed; develop a curriculum that combines the analytical training of a traditional law school degree with third year course work that trains students to work in fields where a law degree is an asset but not required.  OK, so you're thinking to yourself:  "Wait a second.  Students are supposed to go to law school so they can get jobs working outside the law?!?"  Given that a college degree is the new high school diploma when it comes to finding work these days, maybe it's not such a stretch to think some schools might find success marketing the JD as post-graduate credential booster.  Of course it still makes no sense at all given the going rate for a traditional JD but if a school could find a way to deliver the degree on the cheap, it could turn out to be a win-win for both schools and job seeking applicants.  

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch by attorney Ben Weiss, author of Malice in Wonderland: What Every Law Student Should Have for the Trip.

Law schools should offer an 'O'Wendell'

In the face of increased supply and muted demand, it makes little sense to force-feed students a diet of specialized legal skills that have little application in fields outside of law. Instead, America’s law schools should boldly adapt their model to the market realities faced by their students. Law schools should adopt multidisciplinary curriculums that will entice employers other than law firms to hire their graduates for jobs other than as attorneys. A juris doctorate is advertised as a versatile degree that can open doors outside of the legal profession. It is time for law schools to help swing those doors open the day after graduation.

To begin, law schools should offer students the option of earning a special certificate, with their juris doctorate. Let’s call these special certificates an “O’Wendell.” Students could earn an O’Wendell by taking a subset of specialized classes that marry the hallmarks of a legal education, critical thinking and reasoned argument, with the vital economic and geopolitical issues of the future. The entire third year of law school should be devoted to practical, focused classes that help students to monetize their degrees in fields outside of law.

Imagine if a law student could earn an O’Wendell in Chinese corporate strategy; international consulting firms would take notice. An O’Wendell in energy policy would appeal to federal agencies and Fortune 500 companies seeking to navigate complex regulations. O’Wendells in South American e-commerce would appeal to venture capital firms and tech start-ups. Business schools allow students to graduate with concentrations in finance, accounting or marketing. Law students should also have the option to pursue sub-specialties tailored for a global marketplace.

The old guard will decry this proposal as heresy. Law school administrators will argue that the mandate of a law school is to train lawyers. But while they refuse to evolve, their students and graduates are suffering. In coincident, forward-thinking institutions are adapting. On her recent decision to overhaul Northwestern University’s (Kellogg) MBA program, Dean Sally Blount explained, “The world has changed and we’re never going back. Our goal is to truly internalize that.” Law schools owe it to their students to vigorously challenge orthodoxy. True Socratic thinking demands no less.

Continue reading here.

Hat tip to Above the Law.



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