February 23, 2007
Skills education in law school: why it matters right now
The Carnegie study's argument that law schools need to include more skills- and values-oriented education couldn't come at a better time. I would hazard that the 19th-century model of apprenticeship was lousy to begin with -- ad hoc, haphazard and unaccountable -- but evidence is mounting that in this century, the system has completely broken down:
(four breakdowns after the jump)
- Small- and mid-sized firms overwhelmingly avoid hiring new graduates to avoid training costs, according to Pace Law School's recent survey. Only 9% of firms of 51-100 attorneys, and 7% of firms under 50 attorneys, fill their recruitment needs primarily by hiring law school graduates. The top reason for filling positions with experienced attorneys was “Eliminate the need for training” (45%).
- Sophisticated clients are refusing to pay for associate training, according to several lawyers I've interviewed. Historically, law practices have relied on apprenticeships that often include having associates attend client meetings. But the growing sophistication of in-house counsel has led to the curtailment of these opportunities, or at least clients' underwriting of them.
- Consequently, big firms are bringing training in-house. Yet, according to a survey the Berkman Center recently conducted with LexisNexis, only 36% of our respondents reported attending a "boot camp;" of those, half felt it was "somewhat useful," and another 29% rated it "neutral." More worrying than the mediocre quality of these trainings is the possibility that, by "insourcing" all of these functions, the big firms will no longer see it in their financial interest to underwrite the major CLE efforts, denuding the larger market of considerable talent and resources.
- Judges are also trending towards hiring clerks with at least one year of experience, according to some observers.
The picture I end up seeing is one in which everyone -- law schools, law practices, judges -- are passing the hot potato of training around. No one wants it except the big firms who can afford it. And those firms view such training primarily as a recruiting and retention tool.
Seen this way, law schools are the only locus of systemic, across-the-board training and preparation for practice. Relying on the private bar is too risky, runs counter to the bar's current financial interests, and most of all, leaves too much of what the Carnegie study identifies as the values aspect of lawyering to the private market.
And yet, in our survey of practicing attorneys, when we asked who would best be able to provide the skills that these attorneys felt they were missing, a mere 14% identified law schools. This is a serious credibility gap, but not an insurmountable one. In the long run, in fact, I believe that law schools ought to be the most credible among the possible trainers, or at least have an important role to play in building a credible training infrastructure, but I will save that for another post.
- Gene Koo
February 21, 2007
Interesting items around the blogosphere
More than a few posts on law school dynamics around the blogosphere merit the attention of would-be law-school innovators:
- From Law Prof on the Loose, check out Changing Law School
- From Dorf on Law, check out Student Happiness
- From Legal Theory, check out Novak & Pardo on Faculty Publications
- From PrawfsBlawg, check out Faculty Self-Government and the Problem Colleague