Sunday, April 27, 2014

Embedding a "for-profit law practice model" into the law school curriculum to make students more practice ready

The is a new article suggesting an alternative to the law school incubator model as a way to make  students more practice ready.  It's entitled Stop Thinking And Start Doing: Three-Year Accelerator-to-Practice Program As A Market-Based Solution For Legal Education and is authored by Professors Jeffrey Pokorak, Ilene Seidman and Dean Gerald M. Slater (all of Suffolk).  It is available at 43 Wash. U. J.L. & Pol'y 59 (2013).  From the introduction:

Law school applications are the lowest they've been in thirty years. Law school enrollment is down significantly from last year, and analysts see the trend continuing for the 2014-2015 academic year. The lack of current job opportunities and the potential for massive student loan payments has scared away prospective students from entering the legal profession. Commentators continue to suggest that obtaining a legal education might no longer be worth the investment. This Essay disagrees. Too many people suffer unnecessary harms due to a lack of affordable legal services. Continued progress in achieving necessary access to legal assistance relies on a constant influx of new, talented, and energetic lawyers. Providing the best training possible to each new generation of lawyers is essential for the continued development of individual liberties and the equitable treatment of all in our society.
Many thinkers throughout legal academia are responding to these concerns by carefully considering what steps will actually help students, institutions, and the overall system of justice. Too many respond to current concerns about legal education with what we believe is the primary fallacy of legal educators today: namely, that the mission of law schools is to prepare students to think like lawyers. This Essay argues that the central function of law school is to prepare students to be lawyers, and to do what lawyers do. Although these two aims might seem similar, they are actually representative of the wide gulf between two distinct concepts: that of law school as a liberal arts education in law and that of law school as a professional education for lawyers. These goals are not mutually exclusive, but the former concept has dominated legal study development. Decisions regarding curriculum, faculty appointments, standards for promotion and tenure, and pay incentives have solidified legal academia's preference for the theoretical over the experiential approach to learning.
. . . .
One lauded response to the crisis in legal education has been the development of law school incubator programs designed to offer students a post-graduate experience in the actual practice of law under the supervision of law school employees. In our view, this development is both flawed and ironic. Recent graduates are already deeply in debt after three years of legal education, and incubator programs potentially add another year of delay before actual practice. At the same time, the creation of incubators acknowledges the failure of law schools to meet their implied promise as educators to train students to be capable lawyers upon graduation, during the period they are paying law schools to do so. Educating Lawyers: Preparation for the Profession of Law, the influential study produced by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching (the “Carnegie Report”) on legal education, presented legal educators *63 with the opportunity to rethink what it means to “think like a lawyer.” The purpose of this Essay is to move that conversation forward.
We intend to introduce a new model of legal education that accelerates a student's progression from novice to able practitioner within the three years the student attends law school. To do so, we propose expanding the traditional law school curriculum to include required instruction in twenty-first century business competencies beginning in the first year, as well as imbedding a for-profit law practice model within the law school as part of an expanded experiential program. Initially, the program would be comprised of twenty students who apply directly. The purpose of the program would be to prepare these students to join or start sustainable small practices serving average-income individuals and families. We expect and intend that this model would expand to other practice areas and settings. For example, we envision an accelerator to corporate practice that would include successive training at large multi-practice firms and their client corporations, and another for legal technology that would include successive training at a wide range of emerging legal providers utilizing technology to streamline the delivery of legal services. We believe the accelerator model will ultimately serve as a basis for the redesign of modern legal education.


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Really interesting idea here, to try and get lawyers more able to practice as soon as they are done with study. Learning to practice law is more than just knowing business of course - it's principally about people and communication. Some of that can be learned through this system, and the balance can be picked up on the job. Overall, I would support any model that proposes teaching real world skills to young lawyers instead of a head full of legal terms and pompous language.

Posted by: Chris Hargreaves | Apr 29, 2014 9:32:44 PM

I agree that the incubator programs are problematic because they don't teach students how to make money -

Posted by: Carolyn Elefant | Apr 28, 2014 6:37:06 AM

Finally, someone else has criticized the law school incubator programs as I have over the years. I agree - we need to teach students how to make money.

Posted by: Carolyn Elefant | Apr 28, 2014 6:36:21 AM

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