Tuesday, April 28, 2015
In his recent article, my colleague Jason Yackee offers some interesting data on comparative rates of law-related job placement for graduates of the top 100 U.S. law schools. In the end, his analysis in part reaches the entirely unsurprising conclusion that higher-ranked law schools are more successful at placing their graduates in full-time law-related jobs than are lower-ranked schools. More interestingly, and less obviously, his data also suggest that schools that offer more experiential learning opportunities do not have any greater success in placing their students in full-time law-related jobs than do schools with fewer clinical offerings. From this, he queries whether clinical legal education is worth the expense and opportunity costs that it represents to law schools. In this response I focus on two important but largely overlooked questions that Yackee's data analysis (if correct) raises. First, I address the fundamental question Yackee's paper raises implicitly "what significance should attach to any disconnect that may exist between clinical opportunities and hiring rates? My answer is that hiring rates shouldn't affect curricular design in the way Yackee suggests. Simply put, the primary objective underlying the move toward clinical education, and the reason the American Bar Association (ABA) has increasingly demanded more attention to a skills-based curriculum and practice-ready graduates, is not to improve the hiring rates for law school graduates. Rather, the rationale for clinical education is much more about effective pedagogy for adult learners (both about substance and skills) and the need to create effective lawyers, not just as beginning attorneys, but as life-long learners and reflective practitioners. Second, again assuming that Yackee is correct about the hiring disconnect, the real question is why aren't employers influenced by clinical education when (a) they vocally demand practice-ready lawyers and (b) it is so pedagogically valuable? I suggest that the problem does not reflect a lack of interest by employers in experientially trained and practice-ready graduates (and hence in clinics), but rather inadequacy in the hiring metrics and heuristics that are currently available to employers, and indeed a desire by private law firms for a broader range of clinical offerings (not fewer clinics).
Hat tip to Tax Prof Blog.