When I read this post on Law 360 – Lawyers Reimagine Law School For a Changing Market, I think I was first stunned then happy then slightly skeptical. My skepticism came in (as it always does) when I realized this reimagination is being driven (as it always is) by economics.
The thrust of the post is law schools are waking up to the fact they can no longer train lawyers for Big Law associates positions but must train them for self-sufficiency.
Most law graduates do not go on to work at large firms, but many law schools have continued to teach toward that business model, leaving many law graduates with towering debt and low salaries working in government, nonprofit or smaller firms, panelists said.
Did they not know this before the economy exploded? Did they not know this before Big Law firms imploded? Did they not know this before clients rebelled against the model no longer willing to foot the staggering bill for associate training?
If law schools haven’t felt the market pressure to diverge from the traditional three-year model, it’s likely they will soon as law firms come under greater pressure from clients to stop training young associates on the client’s dime, Altonji said.
“Frankly, it’s offensive that it takes $1 million to $1.5 million of the client’s money to train your typical associate after they get out of law school,” Altonji said.
No. They knew this before. But it wasn’t until this perfect storm did the spotlight get turned upon their sweaty faces to expose the law school education model for what it was – pure profit generation at the expense of the majority of students. Now that Big Law firms are putting pressure on them…because their clients are putting economic pressure on them…and because with citizen journalists via social media putting ‘digital’ pressure on them…have they awakened and are taking action. And I know the action they are taking has everything to do with preserving their businesses. But guess what? If it helps the future student who wants to be a lawyer, if it helps reduce crushing debt which after a long convoluted path allows for access to justice for more clients because lawyers have more flexibility due to less debt, then it’s OK. I don’t really care what motivates change as long as change is a’comin’.
It does beg the question, “what of all those law students of the past 5-10 years caught in the vortex of extraordinary debt, no practical skills, no jobs while the law schools failed in their (real) mission? Is this going to be the lost generation in the legal profession? Some would snarkily say, “there are many who have found their way despite it. The rest can leave the profession if they can’t cut it.”
I don’t have an answer for you on this one. This lost generation of lawyers with crushing debt, no jobs and no practical training could number anywhere from 200,000 (based upon graduation rates of 44,000 per year) to 400,000.
And to those who wonder why I have such a strong position on practical training in law school? Here’s the answer:
When I was in undergraduate school at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School I was majoring in advertising. I LOVED advertising. After my first year I went home to get an internship over the summer and I wanted to work at the New Haven Register. They asked me what practical experience I had. I recited everything I learned in school because at 18 1/2 what real world experience could I have had in the advertising world. The guy looked at me and said, “tell your professors they are teaching antiquated materials. Come back when you have some real world experience.” And this was for an internship (self-created, of course.)
It was then I realized the only way academic knowledge would become real for me and marketable was if I was applying the knowledge as I learned it.
Sophomore year I went back to school and created my own internship(s) in advertising agencies. I then leveraged those internships each year into summer paying positions. Within two weeks of graduating college I had several internships and paying positions under my belt and was employed at a top ranked advertising agency in New York City. Why did they hire me? Because I had practical experience and could hit the ground running.
When I went to law school I took every class and clinic I could that gave me hands on experience so I could apply what I was learning. I was blessed to work on an amazing domestic case which had me doing trial prep for two months including interviewing, interrogatories, motions and in a real trial for four weeks doing direct and cross-examinations of witnesses all while fighting pneumonia. The trial continued through finals and concluded on Christmas Eve. I had to get special permission to take my finals the following semester and convince the school that I should get credit for my trial practice course (which I couldn’t complete) because I completed a real trial versus a fake trial. Yes, a case had to be made for this because the obvious eluded the committee. This was why I felt comfortable (nervous, but comfortable) going out and opening my own practice with two other new graduates right after passing the bar. I wasn’t a malpractice case waiting to happen, either.
Opening one’s own practice right after law school is an option that every law student should have because they got real world experience and training IN law school enabling them to feel some level of confidence.
So, let the change begin. And for those who are caught in the ‘vortex’, there are resources for you. I think I’ve created one called Solo Practice University.