Are Law Schools Finally Waking Up??

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.

This entry was posted in Inspiration, Law School Innovation. Bookmark the permalink.

Enjoy our blog posts with lunch! Enter your email address and we'll send you an email each time a new blog post is published.

Want your free copy of Business Call is Back and Attorney Guide to Virtual Receptionists? Subscribe by email below and you will be able to download them immediately.

4 comments on “Are Law Schools Finally Waking Up??

  • Great article, Susan! I especially love how you included your experience as an advertising undergrad. Over the years, I’ve been friends with many professors and it’s been disillusioning to discover how madly institutions of higher educations are profit driven, politicized and change averse.

    Here’s hoping that a new “ready for the real world” breed of lawyers and other professionals not saddled with debilitating debt emerge from the changes spurred by this economic crisis.

    Go SPU!

  • Great article, Susan! It’s sad but not surprising how law schools don’t really get it (and, as you so aptly pointed out, neither do undergraduate institutions!). Academia is the realm of the “Ivory Tower”. These people get paid for teaching about 3 or 4 courses a week, and the rest of the time they get to pontificate about “the Law”. 3 courses meeting 3 times a week for an hour = 9 hours of work. There is no incentive for them to change. They get plenty of applicants who are willing to plunk down big money. (It’s not until after the fact that the reality of debt rears its ugly head, and the recent graduate realizes “I don’t know anything”.)

    The current law school model is SO outdated. It reminds of a great line in Drive by Dan Pink ( a MUST READ for your students), and I’m paraphrasing here, “How many things from the 1850′s and the industrial revolution are still around and relevant today?” He was talking about ” business management” but it can easily be said about law school.

  • Ain’t that the truth! “tell your professors they are teaching antiquated materials. Come back when you have some real world experience.” I see this more and more hands on learning cannot be underestimated and our institutions of higher learning need to catch on!

  • @Tim, thanks. You are so positive!

    @KelliJ and @Steve, I do think all institutions of higher learning are going to be forced to change the same way Big Law and every other for-profit institution is going to be forced to change. They can’t keep profiting from an old model combined with an extraordinary rebellion from those they purport to serve.

    When there is economic pressure on the majority and the prize supposedly available at the end of this expensive and exhaustive education is not worth it, they are simply going to force another road to be created. This road will be online learning, schools which offer two year degrees, community colleges.

    Parents will no longer be able to afford to save for both retirement and $250,000 per child for a worthless degree in undergrad. Banks and the government are going to tighten their purse strings on student loans because they realize these worthless degrees don’t produce jobs which can repay the loans. It’s all economics. Therefore, a new model WILL emerge and the only way law schools and medical schools and graduate and undergraduate schools will survive is to change their business model. Or they die.

    For the next few years kids will still tuck themselves away in school to avoid the realities of what is going on and the schools will suck them up and still spit them out. But then it will be over except for the few stragglers who think they can still stick their heads in the sand.

    We are living in extraordinary times. If you look to the horizon you will see many things collapse from a familiar skyline…the news tells us this. But keep watching and watching and start capitalizing upon what is also being erected :-)

Comments are closed automatically 60 days after the post is published.