5 ways to approach law school reform

by Vault Law Editors | October 22, 2010

  • My Vault

As Brian noted earlier this week, there are lots of reasons to rethink your decision to go to law school. Nevertheless, it seems that, even armed with a more realistic picture of their job prospects, law school applicants may be loathe to give up their dreams. According to a study by Veritas, a law school admissions consulting firm, 81 percent of prospective law school applicants would still apply even if “a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields.”

In a National Law Journal article about the survey, Veritas CEO Chad Troutwine speculates why “law school hopefuls [remain] undaunted by dim prospects”: (1) belief that a legal education is useful in the abstract (true enough, I suppose, though arguably more useful still are medical expertise or knowing how to fix a broken toilet, but relatively few people attend medical school or apprentice as plumbers unless they intend to turn their experiences into practical careers); and (2) a conviction that, however long the odds are, they will beat them (“some folks may not get a good job, but I will”).

Despite the suggestion that such hubris is a peculiarly American trait (“that well-known American affliction of overconfidence,” as the NLJ’s Karen Sloan puts it), would-be solicitors and barristers in the UK display a similar defy-the-odds mentality. As Neil Rose, editor of Legal Futures, wrote in the Guardian this summer:

At the moment, there is insufficient recognition that the legal profession is sucking in too many students and spitting too many out, poorer for the experience in every sense of the word, before they have had a chance to prove themselves.

Competition for solicitor training contracts is fierce these days. According to a recent College of Law survey, 43 percent of CoL students have no traineeship lined up yet. Asked what alternatives these students might pursue if in two years they still haven’t landed a training contract with a UK firm, a good number apparently believe they can qualify to practice in the US and get hired by an American firm. Ha. [hat tip: Roll on Friday]

Meanwhile, panels and task forces are being convened across the country to discuss law school reform. Here are just some of the proposals for how law schools can “make legal education more relevant in light of the changing legal industry” and, perhaps along the way, promote greater professional satisfaction:

  1. Disclose more accurate employment and salary statistics—a cause advanced by, among others, Law School Transparency and Adam Smith, Esq., and now taken up by the ABA;

  2. Modify the curriculum to focus on more practical business-of-law skills, as current Northwestern Law School Dean (and soon-to-be New School President) David Van Zandt has long argued;

  3. Churn out “project managers” rather than trial lawyers, in the dream-deflating words of one nameless managing partner (as reported by former Kirkland & Ellis partner Steven Harper;

  4. Pay students’ tuition and reduce their debt burden, as the new law school at UC Irvine is doing;

  5. Teach students the secrets of happiness, through ostensibly not-touchy-feely elective courses like Duke Law School’s “Well-Being and the Practice of Law.”

- posted by vera

Filed Under: Law

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