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Thursday, October 22, 2009

Responding to the Legal Marketplace

Market How good are law schools at responding to the legal marketplace?

In one sense, we are absolutely wretched.  As law firms this year have shed lawyers like a dog sheds hair in summer, law schools continue to admit the same – or more – students into their programs.  Granted, law firm hiring (like the economy generally) is cyclical, and today’s admittees almost certainly will face a more hospitable placement environment than our May 2009 and -10 graduates.  But there is now at least a year – and perhaps two – worth of surplus graduates looking for jobs, and a temporary restriction on supply would help them tremendously.  Structurally, however, we can’t do that.

In other respects, law schools are merely bad at responding to the legal marketplace.  How many schools, for example, for the spring 2009 semester, dropped some M&A course offerings and beefed up their bankruptcy offerings?  How many schools have beefed up their public-sector offerings in response to the demand materializing now for lawyers who can help guide stimulus funds? 

Ask any law firm hiring partner whether law schools are doing a good job of educating lawyers and you are likely to get an earful.  Neither law firm clients nor cash-strapped government employers are willing or able to subsidize lawyer training the way they were in the past.  Legal employers want to hire graduates who can take a deposition or draft a merger agreement now.  But law schools are not delivering.  The law schools that figure out how to do so – while still teaching the doctrine necessary for bar passage and the critical-thinking skills necessary for solving complex legal problems – will find themselves at a substantial competitive advantage over other law schools.

Rick Bales

Posted by Workplace Prof on October 22, 2009 at 08:20 AM | Permalink

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"Legal employers want to hire graduates who can take a deposition or draft a merger agreement now."

Really? It seems that most legal employers, while dropping OCI from lower tiered schools and sticking with the T10, just want their incoming associates to have come from a "name" school so they can bill at a non-sensical rate. I don't remember any summer associates telling me they learned how to draft agreements, but they definitely knew how to have a good time.

Posted by: Law Student '11 | Oct 22, 2009 10:40:55 AM

Rick asks:

"How many schools, for example, for the spring 2009 semester, dropped some M&A course offerings and beefed up their bankruptcy offerings? How many schools have beefed up their public-sector offerings in response to the demand materializing now for lawyers who can help guide stimulus funds?"

As for the first question, I would flip it: How many additional students enrolled in bankruptcy offerings, and fewer in M&A course offerings? If the students didn't actually shift what they wanted to take, I'm not sure why schools would change their course offerings.

As for the second question, how many newly-minted attorneys are going to be employed as stimulus fund guiders?

Posted by: Orin Kerr | Oct 22, 2009 12:39:43 PM

"Ask any law firm hiring partner whether law schools are doing a good job of educating lawyers and you are likely to get an earful."

My thoughts on the subject (which differ from Rick's):

What Law Schools Should Teach Future Transactional Lawyers: Perspectives from Practice (available at: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1430087)

Posted by: MAW | Oct 22, 2009 2:06:11 PM

Couldn't we also approach this problem from the point of view that the current legal market does not do an even half-way decent job of meeting the true need for legal representation that exists? BigLaw may be shedding attorneys right and left, but do the employment practices of BigLaw really represent the need for legal services? (I also think there is an open question about how much of this shedding of associates is due to a drop in need and how much is attributable to BigLaw thinking it can get away with it PR-wise right now in an attempt to keep or inflate partner revenues.) BigLaw only addresses the legal representation needs of a tiny, tiny fraction of the country.

Perhaps this is an opportunity to look at areas, such low income representation and public criminal defense, and ask how we can actually begin to meet those needs. Will an excess of attorneys by itself help correct this marketplace error? And to what extent? Or can it only be corrected from the top down with the creation of programs and the provision of additional funding? Would that be an approach we, as a country or state, might think of taking?

Of course, none of this makes what Rick said any less true. I just wanted to point out that there may be a distinction between what the legal marketplace demands in terms of more attorneys (as measured by BigLaw employment practices) and the actual need for more attorneys.

Posted by: Scott Boone | Oct 22, 2009 5:38:48 PM

Above the Law notes that just 35% of University of Colorado law graduates had jobs at graduation this year and that the law school has abandoned trying to place individual graduates in jobs.

Posted by: ohwilleke | Oct 22, 2009 7:24:28 PM

Scott: Good point. You are absolutely correct that there's a huge unmet need for legal services for low-income folks. That's an even deeper structural problem in the marketplace for legal services -- we need to find a way to pay lawyers a living wage for doing legal work for low-income folks, or we need to redefine what we mean by legal services to allow this unmet need for legal services to be filled by nonlawyers, or we need to make it easier for folks to do "legal" stuff for themselves.

But the current shedding of jobs is not just about BigLaw. It also includes small and medium-sized firms and state and local government employers.

Posted by: Rick Bales | Oct 23, 2009 8:07:57 AM

Finally! A piece that is tackling issues that matter to the majority as opposed to the privileged minority. This is coming from soon-to-grad undergrad of political science that wants to travel back to Syria, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, and maybe Pakistan before heading into Counter-Terrorism Law. Cheers

Posted by: Talal Seek Refuge | Feb 21, 2010 4:46:10 PM

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