The disconnect between legal education and the legal market remains glaring. As law firms, especially the big fancy ones, have made drastic changes in their business models (most commonly the “pyramid model”) by, among other strategies, lay-offs, reduced salaries and new compensation schemes, utilization of contract attorneys, and chopping the number of first-year associates with no practical skills or experience, shouldn’t law schools start reacting to the market as well? Besides indiscriminate tuition hikes and periodic speeches given by the administration in an attempt to empathize with the debt-ridden, scared-shirtless 2Ls and 3Ls, it is business as usual in the academic world.
Therefore, straight from the comfy couch in my mother’s basement, I have formulated a short list of suggestions for the law school machine to consider if it wishes to avoid some sort of Occupy movement or even a violent uprising.
1. Teach practical skills. Now that firms are no longer interested in hiring baby attorneys fresh from the law school womb, it is time to actually teach law students how to be lawyers (which is sadly a breakthrough concept). Majority of lawyers agree that they learned most of their marketable skills at their internships or their first jobs. Three years worth of cramming material which will never be revisited is excessive. A more sensible approach would dedicate the entire 3rd year to actual legal work. This way, a fresh grad will have more to show in an attempt to sound convincing to an interviewer, or alternatively, will have enough experience and confidence to open a solo practice.
2. Stop lying. If the ABA has the authority to accredit schools, I’m assuming they also have the power to prevent them from publishing misleading figures concerning employment and salary. Contrary to the fears of admissions offices, this will not suddenly bring the application-train to a halt. If anything, it will simply allow prospective students an opportunity to make an informed decision.
3. Lower tuition. Shelling out $100k for a marginal increase in salary prospects is not cost-effective. The days of forking over $160k to a 1st year associate who knows as much about practicing law as a doormat have come to an end. Also, lower paying smaller firms and government agencies now have the pick of the liter due to market shrinkage. Therefore, the smarty pants who graduated magna cum laude on a full scholarship is competing against you for that gig at the Public Defender’s office. Not only do you owe the Fed your internal organs, but your chances of landing a job within the first 6 months (or 1, 2, or 3 years) post graduation are not at all what you imagined.
4. Stop opening new law schools. For years, many theorists have asserted that the American Medical Association limits the number of admitted students with the intention of artificially preserving doctors’ incredibly high salaries. Although I haven’t found any sources to substantiate these accusations, the concept does not sound all that bad when applied to a market experiencing high unemployment and large student loans. It appears as though those responsible for the recent law school proliferation are continuing to ignore the recession which began back in 2007. Maybe some sort of ABA/AMA mixer is in order.
5. Provide food and shelter for recent grads who have found little use for their J.D. besides covering that hole in the wall in their mother’s basement. This point is self-explanatory.