(Update: Victoria Pynchon has continued this conversation in her popular Forbes column in a post called ‘Occupy Law School at Solo Practice University‘)
To succeed in this environment, graduates will need entrepreneurial skills, management ability and some expertise in landing clients. They will need to know less about Contracts and more about contracts.
“Where do these students go?” says Michael Roster, a former chairman of the Association of Corporate Counsel and a lecturer at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. “There are virtually no openings. They can’t hang a shingle and start on their own (emphasis added). Many of them are now asking their schools, ‘Why didn’t you teach me how to practice law?’ ”
While this New York Times article was spot on when discussing 95% of the problems with law school, the impractical education, the internal top-heavy, tenure-driven structures which prevent it from moving forward, the decreasing value of scholarship and the increasing cost of this depreciating intellectual asset, they threw in a quote which spoils their conclusion, ‘They can’t hang a shingle and start on their own.’
Now you may believe as I write this I have an agenda because I operate Solo Practice University®. You are right. I do have an agenda. My agenda has always been and will continue to be that practical education is an imperative while in law school within the curriculum and should be mandatory for graduation. Students who are paying for the full pie should get the full pie, not half a pie. But practical education is not only not offered with very limited exceptions, but when it is offered it’s an elective and usually a two-credit Law Office Management Class. I was hit with this like a bucket of ice water in the face when I started law school January of 1992! And I have railed against the structure of law school and its priorities relentlessly since then. And it was, in fact, the impetus for creating Solo Practice University®. And I am very proud of every faculty member who understands this and gladly participates and all the students who have trusted us to help them and the growing number of law schools who realize they need to help their students.
However, there is one illogical and unsupportable conclusion to this article; the erroneous assumption that even with the current curriculum, students can’t come out of law school and hang a shingle. As a result, there is an automatic sweeping dismissal of all those students who DID come out of law school, hung a shingle immediately and did so very well. Those who will defend the article’s conclusion will usually pull out this old chestnut, ‘those who did are an exception.’ They are only an exception because the law schools, alumni newsletters, national and local legal publications seldom have any data on the nearly fifty-percent of private practice attorneys who ARE solos. They don’t publicize their successes as a norm, but as a novelty. They are quick to publicize a solo’s failure or ethical misstep knowing full well the countless failures and criminal activities of those in large law firms but who have the money behind them to ‘make the problems go away.’ So, the world gets a very lopsided view of the solo practitioner from professional cradle to grave.
The article focuses on the failure of law schools to educate to practice. They do fail to educate to practice. The article, however, misses one crucial point: it does not look at the skills and talents and ambitions of the students who come to law school. The article (as would be expected) focuses on the lack of skills of first year associates who were hired by large firms at $150,000 upon graduation.
Those who fit the selection criteria of large law firms seldom have the skills and talents and ambitions of someone who wants to go solo and be an entrepreneur. Someone who focuses on filling their law school resume with moot court, law review, and other employer-friendly activities seldom wants to go solo so they eschew (optional) clinical work, summer positions with legal aid, pro bono opportunities, or shadowing a solo practitioner while in law school. Those who do want to go solo seek out these opportunities and get practical training without having to pay their law school an exhorbitant sum of money to do so. They may also opt to go to a more cost-effective school putting them off the radar of large firms. And unfortunately, many schools dismiss these students from further consideration when they say they are going to open up their own shop…but not before a parting shot assuring them they will fail.
I do encourage everyone to read this article if you haven’t already. But pay attention to what is NOT being said about the majority of lawyers out there, that in spite of the lack of practical training solos succeeding right out of law school are not a novelty. I’ve not only lived it but do not consider myself unique in any way, shape or form. There are countless who have gone before me, with me, and legions more will follow.