Monday, November 21, 2011

Thoughts on law schools and practical training

Yes, I suppose I agree with the general thrust of this much discussed NYT article that it is probably good for law schools to teach people how to be lawyers. On the other hand, it's woefully vague about how schools are supposed to do this better. Consider:

For bar passage reasons, for the first year and a half or so, it's probably in the interest of most schools to have students spend most of their time in traditional doctrinal courses. Departing too much from the standard platter of Contracts, Torts, Property, etc. would send many schools' bar passage rates down significantly. Even at the highest-ranked schools, where vast majorities of students now have little trouble with the exam, Barbri would turn into (even more of?) a stressful nightmare if the ratio of new material vs. review of 1L plus Evidence and a couple other 2L/3L core courses. It's possible that the right answer is that the organized bar should get rid of the exam, which I wouldn't necessarily oppose. But if that's what Segal thinks, then he ought to discuss this possibility more openly.

Second, how much in common do very different kinds of law jobs really have? Is learning the practicalities of how to be a lawyer in solo or small firm practice really a lot like learning how to be an associate at a big firm like Drinker Biddle (the large firm profiled in Segal's article)? How much is either of those jobs really like being a prosecutor in state court? I've never been any of those things, but I suspect "not very." And if they're not very much alike, how should people sort themselves into tracks? Would you have a system where the top 25% of the class based on grades at my law school would've spent the next two years on pre-Biglaw vocational training, while people nearer the bottom spent their next two years regarding how to operate a solo practice.

I'm not sure how well it would work to run law schools with multiple "tracks" based on 1L grades. It's more likely that you'd get a few highly selective schools that really specialized in preparing people for Biglaw and a mass of less selective ones that really push training for the traditionally lower-prestige law jobs. But that would mean that the very top people at the lower schools might have a harder time cracking elite firms than they do now. So you'd wind up getting an (even more?) stratified legal profession. Is this really something that Segal et al. are comfortable with?

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