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11/01/2011

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Tony

I am a 2010 graduate of a regionally strong law school rated by US News in the mid-first tier. Fortunately, I had a couple of small firm offers coming out of school, and have been practicing since.

That said, my loans are sizable, and given my family size (4), paying down the debt on my salary is difficult. I thought about the personal economics of legal education while in school, and especially now that I have graduated. With the benefit of hindsight, I believe that a plan focused on the first year could benefit all students.

Given the emphasis placed on first-year grades in terms of recruitment of larger to mid-size firms, not to mention law review and other "important" extra curriculars, I suggest that the first year serve as a "trial" period. For those who escape first-year in the top 25-33%, they continue on to finish law school. A promotion if you will. For the bottom 75-66%, well, they're shown the door, but are saved significant debt over those two years in a highly competitive job market.

Are there some in that bottom group who could still be successful attorneys? Absolutely. But those folks will also likely succeed in other endeavors as well for reasons having nothing to do with legal education. The result will be fewer lawyers entering the profession, increasing the likelihood of those folks landing jobs as lawyers. Also, it could provide law schools with some much needed PR in terms of proactivity in a tough economy.

This will of course never happen because law schools need the tuition dollars of the bottom 75-66% to keep its bloated rolls paid.

Steven Lichtman

(I'm cross-posting here; this comment also appears on Bill's post, but I realized that it's a direct response to Karen's first question and probably ought to go here.)

I have a suggestion for how law schools should retool their curricula, based on the remark made at this year's NAPLA meeting (an observation that has been independently repeated in this forum) that today's law graduates need to be more "entrpreneurial."

Fine. If that's what the field wants, then law schools need to start offering classes in Managing Business Relationships, where they teach skills such as networking, rainmaking, client interaction ... the kinds of things that get taught in business schools as a matter of course.

This is different from so-called "skills training" that only focuses on how to argue a case, negotiate a settlement (and other typical "clinical" skills). I'm not saying that those skills can be dumped - nor am I saying that the bar-prepration of the first-year courseload needs to be abandoned, either. But if entrepreneurial attributes are required to be hired in this new paradigm, then entrepreneural skills must be taught.

Steven Lichtman, J.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Political Science and Pre-Law Advisor
Shippensburg University

Barbara Seville

"How should law schools change?"

At least half of them should simply shut up shop forthwith.

Corey Johanningmeier

In one of Ralph Nader's books he talks about the fact that over 80% of the students at Harvard Law start(ed) their 1L year with aspirations to enter public law, but over 80% of Harvard Law graduates go into private law firm careers.

Given the elitism of the profession, the second percentage is attainable at... optimistically... less than ten law schools.

Every other law school (and perhaps some of the ten), should consciously force themselves to imagine their ideal graduate as someone who will enter government service at GS-12 level, or join or start a small firm and earn a five figure salary. The school should price itself in such a way that its new ideal graduate can repay cost of attendance in ten years. Alternatively, as Barbara suggests, they should shut up shop.

Its not hard. If half the graduates are under-employed then schools should cost half as much or graduate half as many. Bubbles do not re-inflate.

W

Institute the following 3 changes tomorrow and the problem is solved.

1. Set a high bar for schools to completely and accurately report their employment and salary statistics. It is hypocritical and disgraceful that the rules of professional responsibility can be taught in an institution that itself blatantly violates the most basic rules of responsibility when it comes to misleading clients (e.g. law students).

2. Abolish the third year of law school and replace it with a required year of a paid internship with a licensed attorney who is currently practicing and has been practicing for at least the past five, or maybe ten, years. This one change instantly reduces tuition by 33%.

3. Replace all tenured faculty with practitioners. Instead of most professors earning tens (hundreds?) of thousands per class taught, the vast majority of professors would earn a few thousand dollars (and no benefits). There could also be some full-time faculty, but they would not be tenured, would not have a say in management of the school. In other words, those interested in taking these positions would be happy to have a salary equivalent to that of a typical public servant and would just love the idea of actually teaching students. Then there could be a few slots for academics based on grants. These few could spend the bulk of their time researching and writing while teaching maybe one seminar a semester.

Problem solved.

Of course this is entirely in the interests of law students and the future of our legal system, but it is against the interests of professors and administrators that just want to continue making unjustifiably high salaries in cushy jobs off the backs of poor students that will remain in debt for a long time, if not their entire lives.

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Heri

Mr O would like to say a VERY big thank you to all at Adventure International for making our visit such a bilrliant time. Particular thanks to Trotti, Charlie, Tebb and Laurie for taking such very great care of the children sorry to have missed you at the end the coach pulled away before we could wave goodbye. Thanks too to Dave for always being there! Pictures of our visit can be viewed via our school website. Brilliant!

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About the Blog

  • Rising tuition. Misleading employment statistics. Inadequate skills training. Law schools have faced plenty of criticism for their role in the struggles of young lawyers today. The National Law Journal has assembled a panel of legal educators and law graduates to discuss whether law schools are facing a crisis, and how they should respond to their mounting problems.

Law School Review Contributors

  • Brian Tamanaha
    A professor at Washington University in St. Louis School of Law who writes about law schools on the blog Balkinization
  • Erwin Chemerinsky
    Founding dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law
  • John F. O’Brien
    Dean of the New England Law, Boston and chairman of the Council of the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar
  • Kyle McEntee
    A 2011 graduate of Vanderbilt University Law School and the executive director of Law School Transparency, a nonprofit group advocating for legal education reform
  • Lucille Jewel
    Professor at Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School who has written about the problems faced by recent law school graduates
  • Michael A. Olivas
    A professor at the University of Houston Law Center and the current president of the Association of American Law Schools
  • William Henderson
    Professor at Indiana University Maurer School of Law—Bloomington who studies the legal profession

Law School Review: Further Reading