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September 1, 2011

Imagining a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or "Lawyering for America" to do good while helping new law grads to better

I continue to find thought-provoking the posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as some of the still active student scam-blogs.  And, via these sources, I sense there is growing mainstream discussion of modern legal education costs/benefits within the legal profession, as evidenced by these recent pieces from the Chicago Lawyer and the Connecticut Law Tribune:

As I keep read these blogs and keep hear stories of successful recent law students having no success finding jobs upon graduation, I keep thinking about the very large number of (mostly poor) persons with unmet legal needs in the United States.  As the title of this post suggests, I cannot help but imagine the creation of some mass program for young lawyers to do good work — whether modeled on programs like the Peace Corps or Teach for America — as a means of helping unemployed recent law grads do better by doing good.

As a criminal law professor who specializes in sentencing issues, I am most attuned to the huge number of criminal defendants and ex-offenders — literally millions of Americans — who could benefit greatly from legal advice but who, for financial or others reasons, completely lack access to lawyers or are underserved by (overworked) appointed lawyers.  And I know that lawyers surely could be helping (mostly poor) people struggling with many modern American social challenges — challenges ranging from foreclosure problems, to immigration issues, to family law matters, to health care coverage, to access to education and professional opportunities.

In other words, our society now has a glut of underemployed junior lawyers and a glut of underserved legal needs.  The private legal marketplace — for many reasons, though mostly because the people with the most needs have the least money — seems unable to connect these potential service-providers and these legal needs.  But a well-structured government program or public-policy-group initiative could and should be able to do much better in connecting the potential legal service-providers with all the persons need these services.

I can think of lots of different ways to potentially structure a "Lawyer Peace Corps" or a "Lawyering for America" program — e.g., new grads could have government debts slashed for being in the program a certain number of years, some law schools (or particular classes/clinics) could serve as formal feeders. But I can also think of a lot of potential objections/problems — e.g., might junior lawyers with limited training make some legal problems worse for those now without lawyers?

For now, I just wanted to throw the idea out and see if I can get any reactions (at least from my co-bloggers).

Posted by DAB

September 1, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Service -- legal profession, Serving students, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack

August 31, 2011

"Think [And Practice] Like a Lawyer: Legal Research for the New Millennials"

The title of this post is the title of this new paper by Aliza Kaplan and Kathleen Darvil, which is available via SSRN.  Here is the abstract:

It is time to heed the calls for legal education reform.  In our changing economy, new attorneys need to be properly trained in law school to be competent at providing effective legal services for their employers and clients.  Law schools must remain open to and interested in legal reform; they must partner with practitioners to incorporate more practical skills into the law school curriculum.

Updating how we teach legal research by making it accord more with how attorneys actually conduct and use legal research in practice will help accomplish this and will also more actively engage our Millennial students.  There is no question that making some timely changes to legal research instruction would better prepare new attorneys to be competent practicing lawyers and would be a win-win for students, law schools and employers.

August 31, 2011 in Teaching -- curriculum, Teaching -- pedagogy, Teaching Resources, Technology -- in the classroom | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 29, 2011

Does three years in law school have "value" other than as the means to a professional degree?

The question in the title of this post keeps coming to my mind as I read posts and comments over at Inside the Law School Scam, as well as discussions at various scam-blogs in which the basic theme is that the huge debt law schools require (encourage?) students to incur is a scam because there are no (well-paying) law jobs to be found.  In this recent post, LawProf does an armchair cost/benefit assessment of the potential professional "return" on a law degree investment priced at $300K in terms of actual and opportunity costs.  Missing from the LawProf analysis (as he concedes) is any discussion of the potential "value" of law school (and of being a lawyer) other than as the means to a profession degree that could (but may not) increase one's earning power/potential.

Two subsequent posts by Law Prof with the following comments, in turn, has me really wondering about the "value" of the (expensive) modern three-year law school experience:

That law is an unhappy profession has more to do with factors that law schools can do little about...

The vast majority of law students are in no way interested in paying $150,000 for a three-year continuation of their liberal arts education.  They didn't go to law school because they wanted to go to graduate school to study law.  They went to law school (leaving aside those who are killing time because they have no real idea what they want to do) because they were presented with a barrier to entry to the practice of law that required them to go to school for three more years, period, full stop.

I know some practicing lawyers who would agree that "law is an unhappy profession," but I also know many more practicing lawyers who really like their jobs (and not merely because they make more than a living wage).  But putting aside the important question of whether law really is "an unhappy profession," this premise necessarily casts a completely different light on the "value" and vices of modern legal education.  If law practice really is an "unhappy profession," law schools would seem to justify praise for giving students as a last bit of (expensive) fun (or at least ease) before they have to enter the "unhappy" profession in the real-world.

Moreover, at the same time I seriously question the premise that "law is an unhappy profession," I also question the suggestion that most new law students know where and how they wanted to "practice law" (as opposed to just knowing they want to have a good white-collar job in a certain region).  The real "value" I see in the modern law school program is to provide a (comfortable?) space, significant time and considerable resources to enable bright young people (or second career people) to figure out just what "practicing law" might really mean for them.

Put differently, in addition to believing modern law schools provide a solid education in what I would call "advanced American civics," I also believe modern law schools provide a good opportunity for bright young people (or second career people) to find out about different ways they might make a living from being bright as a lawyer.  To me, this is especially key to the "value" of law school programs lasting three years: most think-like-a-lawyer training can be achieved during the 1L year, but the following two years provide space, time, and resources for students figure out where and how they can find a "happy" place within what for (too) many may be an "unhappy profession."

That all said, students are often paying a lot (roughly $100K if they are paying full tuition) for the opportunity to explore what law practice might mean for them over their final 2 years in law school.  Moreover, if those final two years end up further limiting a student's professional options after graduation (because of bad grades or other factors), I fully understand considerable post-graduation frustration.  

Still, I know from my own experiences that I benefited personally and professionally from having extra time in law school to figure out my own professional goals (though my concerns about the loans accrued were diminished by a decent lawyer job market in the 1990s).  And here I wanted to supplement my co-blogger's recent post on the good things about the 3L year, as well as encourage readers to share their perspectives on the "value" (and/or vices) of a relatively long modern law school program.

Posted by DAB

August 29, 2011 in Blogging by lawyers and law professors, Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- curriculum, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack