Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The New Republic asks six experts how they would fix law school

The August issue of The New Republic magazine features a cover story on the supposed "end of BigLaw"  and the "looming economic collapse of the legal profession."  Also inside is this feature in which the magazine asked six experts, including prominent law profs, writers and practitioners, how they would "fix" law school.  Professor Alan Dershowitz says he'd make law school two years instead of three. The third year would be devoted to supervised practical training via externships or clinics (those interested in a career in legal academia - mostly top students at elite schools - Dershowitz says they would spend the third year doing scholarly research and writing).  Others suggest everything from turning off the spigot of federal educational loan money that encourages too many to attend to a "cooling off" period between college and law school so that students don't apply as a way to extend college while figuring out what they want to do with their lives. 

The best idea in terms of helping to make students more "practice-ready" comes from Mark Chandler, the General Counsel at Cisco Systems, who is developing a program with U. Colorado that will allow students to work at Cisco as paid interns during the school year while earning academic credit via an independent study program supervised by faculty members.  The article is thin on details so I'm not sure how this proposal will differ from the supervised externships that many schools already offer but perhaps the standout feature is Mr. Chandler's take-charge attitude that the private bar has to step up to assist in the practical training of law students if it wants law schools to graduate students who are more "practice-ready." 

The crisis in legal education is often blamed on corporate clients like me: Under pressure to lower costs each year, we refuse to fund law firms’ training budgets by paying for young associates to do work that can be accomplished by technology or by non-lawyers working remotely. Worse, we are increasingly unwilling to pay on the basis of billable hours, which reward firms based on how slowly and inefficiently work gets done, rather than how quickly and efficiently. This pushes law firms to make their operations more efficient, reducing the prospects to employ and train young lawyers who emerge from school with few practical skills. With current students saddled with huge debt and facing limited job prospects, prospective applicants are turning elsewhere, and schools are reducing class sizes and faculties.

But companies like mine, and law firms as well, can also be part of the solution. We’ve proposed the following, and Colorado University Law School's visionary dean Philip J. Weiser is working to implement this program next year: Students will work as interns at Cisco for seven months–from June of the second year of law school until the following January, and potentially part-time during the following spring. We will pay them as we do our customary interns, and the students will not be required to pay tuition to the law school for the fall semester. The students will be supervised by a faculty member during the fall through an intensive credit-earning independent study project, and the students will also take extra courses during the rest of law school to ensure sufficient ABA-approved credits to graduate.

Read the rest of Mr. Chandler's remarks here as well as those of the other five panelists.

Hat tip to Stephanie West-Allen.



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