Saturday, June 21, 2014
Accusations of law prof self-delusion and mendacity; predictable cheering from the bleachers; and a basic point remains missing
Prof. Burk wades cleverly into the debate about JD advantage and law school worth with an angry post about post-law school employment and an analogy to the MLA's case for PhD humanities work.
One argument in the post is unassailably right and important to make: Even if one supposes that a law graduate has succeeded in finding a position for which the JD degree provides a clear advantage in the work required, it does not follow that law school was the right educational path or, relatedly, that the benefits of this JD degree outweighed the costs. Of course. Point well taken.
But what remains missing is a careful engagement with the point made by many, including me, that there are positions which ought to count, for those who purport to do the counting (ATL is one; LST is another), although a credential as a lawyer is not formally required. Insofar as law schools can and will describe these positions and, further, explain why substantial legal training, leading to a JD, provides special skills for these positions, then current and prospective students should evaluate whether the benefits of three years of legal education justify the costs.
Apparently Prof. Burk, channelling the irritated folks who pepper this post with "stick it to the man" comments in a redundant and wholly predictable way, simply declares that law profs and administrators who counsel students to pursue non-traditional jobs -- in a world, I hasten to add, in which the traditional silos between "practicing law" and deploying legal skills in a business setting are weakening -- and who report, happily, when their graduates in fact secure these jobs, are engaging in subterfuge and worse.
Let's talk candidly about the reconfiguration of legal practice, the growing interface among law-business-technology, and the efforts underway to shape business environments to engage law graduates in the performance of management strategy, human resources, regulatory compliance, entrepreneurship -- in short, in spaces where law and legal skills are prudent, and perhaps essential. And, further to the critical point, let's insist that law schools be candid and transparent about exactly which jobs their students land after graduation. Then the marketplace will be in a better position to evaluate the important claim about whether and to what extent X or Y or Z law school is worth it.
Dan, while I agree that "must have law degree" is way too narrow a standard by which to assess what law schools do, I'd say the only one coming off angry here is you. Why pepper a comment with "cleverly," "angry," "stick to to the man," "redundant and wholly predictable." Those are not words of reason. [Hold a sec while I cheer Ghana's goal. OK, back.] Typical law prof words to distract from the substantive point. I see it every day as I am sure you do. Typical of writing in this field -- appeals to institutional authority, damning the messenger and veiled claims of a lack of collegiality -- avoid getting down to the facts.
Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Jun 21, 2014 4:20:03 PM
I guess the scam bloggers have claimed at list one victim, because you seem to have cracked. What would have been a somewhat angry sounding, but basically responsive, comment comes off totally unhinged when written as a full blog post with little context here.
Posted by: Rick Goldstein | Jun 21, 2014 5:53:59 PM
I think you buried the lede: "let's insist that law schools be candid and transparent about exactly which jobs their students land after graduation." This is key to the rest of your points, and (although disclosure is improving), it's still contrary to the current situation where "JD Advantage" jobs are not described in any detail (and probably include paralegal jobs, etc.). It's kind of "assume a can opener."
Posted by: CBR | Jun 21, 2014 6:48:45 PM
Let me defend Dan. We need to think beyond traditional law firm jobs, at least for students with a higher risk appetite and who take the relevant courses in law school. Students who take jobs in areas of complex regulation in a compliance function, investment banking, management consulting, real estate development, or someone who (co)founds a start-up have something in common. Such students have found private sector jobs that are sophisticated and have high potential upside in terms of wealth. Similarly, government jobs in policy positions that address cutting edge issues also may benefit from a legal education. These jobs are just as meaningful as a traditional JD job and in some cases allow for a higher learning curve earlier in one's career. By lumping together all JD plus jobs, we don’t allow schools that encourage these sophisticated job opportunities to product differentiate. Indeed we ultimately punish those schools that are innovating in their curricular approaches.
Posted by: D. Daniel Sokol | Jun 21, 2014 11:31:17 PM
A few scattered points:
"law profs and administrators who counsel students to pursue non-traditional jobs"
-Nobody is worried about anyone "counseling" law students to take a certain type of job, at least as far as I can tell. What people *are* concerned about is using what are objectively poor outcomes in an attempt to justify the cost of going to a particular law school, to goad people into attending that law school, or both.
"there are positions which ought to count"
-I completely agree with this.
"Insofar as law schools can and will describe these positions . . . "
"Let's talk candidly about the reconfiguration of legal practice, the growing interface among law-business-technology, and the efforts underway to shape business environments to engage law graduates in the performance of management strategy, human resources, regulatory compliance, entrepreneurship -- in short, in spaces where law and legal skills are prudent, and perhaps essential."
-I look forward to your (presumably) upcoming article on these issues, Dan. Could you offer a brief summary here?
"And, further to the critical point, let's insist that law schools be candid and transparent about exactly which jobs their students land after graduation."
-Some of us have been insisting for several years now. Glad to have you on board!
"Then the marketplace will be in a better position to evaluate the important claim about whether and to what extent X or Y or Z law school is worth it."
I mean, look, Dan. I get it. Northwestern places some students in legitimate JD Advantage jobs, and probably does a bang up job helping its students find jobs they wouldn't have otherwise had an opportunity to get. And, frankly, that's great. But that's just not the case for probably 90%+ of the other law schools out there, most of which can't claim any credibility on the truth-in-outcome-reporting front at this point. What I think that schools like Northwestern should be doing is putting positive information out there on its own behalf. If you dropped 20 or 30 students into management consulting, or i-banking, or policy orgs, or whatever, say so. Just release *all* the outcome data so that people thinking about dropping *hundreds of thousands of dollars* can make a well-informed decision for themselves about whether to attend your institution.
Also, you law school dean bros should probably find a way to get together and cut your tuition by like, 75%. Because holy $%#% @ the tuition you're charging these days.
Posted by: No, breh. | Jun 22, 2014 4:37:59 AM
I've said it before and I'll say it again: the only employment data that make any sense are ft, lt, non solo, no school funded jd required jobs. Of course there are jd-advantage jobs, even good ones such as law professor, but so what? What matters here is a consistent, meaningful metric that is relatively scam-proof. It allows comparisons between schools and across years. That such data also undermines the old canard about how you can do anything with a versatile law degree is just a bonus.
And, Dan, the types of non lawyer jobs that law grads get at entry level (save McKinsey and I-banking) tend to be bad and not jd advantaged. The nomenclature also suggests that a law degree is advantageous when it is the mark of Cain in so many jobs that would otherwise been available to smart college grads.
Stop selling, and stop lying to young people.
Posted by: Jojo | Jun 22, 2014 8:58:23 AM
Most businesses try to differentiate their product before folding. Some do successfully and some do not. Law Schools can become something more than "law schools." but it is going to take more than spouting phrases like "interface law-business- technology" and "sophisticated job opportunities." I can be convinced that there are jobs that fit those labels but until those teaching in law schools are not the standard law school grads from elite schools nothing will happen. It would mean hiring people to actually design and teach an integrated program. Most importantly it means giving up control -- nothing anyone in the industry seems quite willing to do.
One of the characteristics of law profs and maybe all academics is the belief that they know how to handle things beyond their expertise. They talk about effective teaching but rarely study what that means, they debate laptops in the classroom but do not read the literature, they try to solved internal personnel ills by calling in law professors to assess what is wrong, they assess scholarly impact by counting downloads, cites, etc. In short they attempt to solve problems by relying on their own narrow areas of expertise.
Reform is very unlikely to come from within when a discipline lacks the humility to realize it does not have what it takes to make the change happen.
Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Jun 22, 2014 9:46:48 AM
Dan, have you thought about staying away from the internets for awhile?
Posted by: Bass Reeves | Jun 22, 2014 11:30:01 AM
Wow, are you fond of hyperbole. (And topics covered in depth elsewhere five years ago by those déclassé scamblogs you loathe so much.)
The problems with the "JD advantage" categories are these:
1. No job is definitively "JD advantage," insofar as two HR departments looking for otherwise identical candidates might take entirely different views of whether a JD is an advantage to someone fitting their job description. Thus, no one can know as they get their JD whether it might mean something to their desired employer outside of the practice of law.
2. What salary information is generated re: JD-advantage positions indicates that JD-advantage jobs tend to pay less for recent graduates than JD-required jobs. The JD-advantage positions that pay better (e.g., the almost-mythical "compliance officer") typically go to people who have legal experience and/or graduate from the elite schools.
Notably, the graduates of top schools overwhelmingly prefer attorney positions, in a world where presumably every option is open to them first and non-elite graduates second (if at all). Some JD-advantage jobs may be fabulous, but the majority of them are almost certainly not - and not worth the median cost of an ABA-accredited law school for three years to get, either in terms of compensation or job satisfaction.
Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jun 22, 2014 1:41:11 PM
Am I the only one who witnessed a will's class where at least 75% of the students had trouble doing arithmetic that's usually taught in middle school (i.e. using fractions)? How are such people going to "interface" with STEM professionals?
Posted by: Brad | Jun 22, 2014 6:07:23 PM
Very good point, Brad. I've not had that experience by I have had students in contracts ask if they are responsible for the math when we add up damages. I get worried about mentioning present value. A History major after three years of law school is not likely to do any of the fancy interfacing some folks are suggesting. We would have to add a year to law school and offer a battery of interface courses. Instead the people talking about two years.
Posted by: Jeff Harrison | Jun 22, 2014 8:27:25 PM
The posters have ably covered most of the relevant points, but I'll add that nothing is stopping any law school from doing what Michigan has done for several years:
They don't do this. We know that the elite JD programs send the vast majority of their grads into JD Required jobs, indicating that when given the option, most students elect to become lawyers after getting a JD. It also allows them to massage the JD Advantage category to include positions that are JD Advantage because of credential inflation (as in I'm sure that JD was helpful in beating out the BAs for that management trainee position at Starbucks).
"Let's talk candidly about the reconfiguration of legal practice, the growing interface among law-business-technology, and the efforts underway to shape business environments to engage law graduates in the performance of management strategy, human resources, regulatory compliance, entrepreneurship."
No, let's cut through the Six Sigmaese and get down to brass tacks. Daniel Sokol has identified some of the positions that might be JD Advantage (although ibanking and management consulting are extremely prestige-conscious and are not likely to even give a screener to JDs from 90% of the law schools out there, unless they are coming from a biglaw firm). What are some of the others? How many students are interested in them? What specific coursework would these employers want to see to hire a freshly minted JD over, say, a BA with 2 years relevant work experience? Who is going to teach these classes (it sure isn't going to be HYS JD > federal clerk > 2 years at biglaw tenure-track law professors). Will they, like many faculty members, feel entitled to salaries sufficient to compensate them for their noble sacrifice? What programs will law schools cut in order to fund these classes without raising tuition on the backs of students for programs of uncertain efficacy?
Posted by: BoredJD | Jun 23, 2014 10:55:10 AM
BoredJD: These are completely legitimate and apt questions. Let me tackle them in order, but first note relevant agreements: The vast majority of students will take JD required jobs over other jobs, given the choice; and, second, the high-prestige management track jobs noted are, yes, very competitive and will likely be available to a small sliver of students from a small sliver of law schools (a point made elsewhere as well).
As to the questions:
jobs available? Likely the ones Sokol mentions, along with some positions in human resource departments (public and private), insurance companies, university departments (e.g., tech transfer), and medium-to-large corporate compliance departments. Moreover, the business sector is changing in some key ways and imaginative folks who look at economic trends for a living note the connections between law and legal training and management strategy and performance. (In addition to Susskind, who has written on this extensively, there is a wonderful recent book which bears on this debate by Erik Brynjolfsson & Andrew McAfee, "The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies" (Norton 2014).
How many students? Fair question. I don't know the answer. But, given the decline in traditional legal jobs, wouldn't the incentives align to push more students in this direction? Again, agreeing with the poster, students will likely look first to lawyer jobs (at least those not on the most elite schools; and perhaps there as well).
Specific coursework? Good question again. I suppose some additional coursework in business skills, especially where law & business intersect; quantitative methods; courses in soft skills; courses tied to tech matters; accounting. Will employers prefer the JD over BA with 2 years work experience? The market will answer this question of course. But note that more and more law schools (led by ours, I'll say) are strongly preferring 2 years of relevant work experience before enrolling. So, then your question is whether business employers will still prefer the BA grad.
Who is going to teach these courses? Agree, not the folks you describe in your post. If the demand grows for teaching courses in this space, law schools will need to respond -- as some have -- with different hiring patterns. The days when law schools hire exclusively folks like the sort you describe above are on the wane, and you and I would agree that this is a very good thing indeed.
Which programs will law schools cut? Again, the market will push law schools in the relevant directions. Maybe cuts; and maybe a significant shift away from traditionally legal and traditionally academic curriculum. If and insofar as there is anything to my depiction of the changing marketplace in which silos between traditional law practice and contemporary business practice are dissolving, then certainly law schools (and perhaps also business schools) will need to make adjustments. And, finally, I agree completely with the poster's point that it would be a Pyrrhic victory indeed if law schools forged these curricular initiatives by increasing tuition. That would neither be sensible nor sustainable.
So, while I get that this post (and some of the others) are crafted to disagree strenuously with my claims, let me suggest that there is more agreement than meets the eye, to wit: (1) law schools need to adapt to survive; (2) such adaptation must include basic changes to their economic model (including becoming more affordable) and to their curriculum; (3) schools must work ever harder to assist graduates in securing remunerative employment, including broadening the scope of this employment. And, further, none of this bears squarely on the question of whether one or another law school is worth it.
For the most part, a very valuable debate and the various perspectives seem to sharpen the issues and disagreements in fruitful, constructive ways.
Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jun 23, 2014 11:29:00 AM
Just a friendly suggestion to Dean Rodriguez and Professor Sokol: hard data is the coin of the realm. Impassioned rhetoric (Dean Rodriguez) and elegant rhetoric (Professor Sokol) no longer carry the day.
Posted by: John Steele | Jun 23, 2014 12:06:10 PM
Two part post because of length:
First, you mention the “market” several times in your response. I’m unsure what market you’re referring to, or why the market matters at all to this discussion. If the average law school, one without the name recognition of a Harvard or Northwestern, wants to go in the direction you’re proposing, they need to have a plan. They need to know in advance where the jobs are and what it takes to get their students into those jobs without any prior experience. It’s very fine to say that the market will sort it all out when it is not your future on the line, but I wouldn’t be surprised if someone contemplating taking on 250K of debt needs a bit more reassurance than that.
As to your responses:
“given the decline in traditional legal jobs, wouldn't the incentives align to push more students in this direction?”
I’m not sure whether you are assuming that “law students” remain a fixed resource. If they are aware of the decline in traditional legal jobs, students will continue to avoid the debt associated with law school, unless the law schools can either (1) through deceptive marketing and playing to preexisting biases, make it seem like decently-paying non-JD required jobs are widely available, or (2) actually show students those jobs are attainable and pay well enough to service debt.
“Specific coursework? I suppose some additional coursework in business skills, especially where law & business intersect; quantitative methods; courses in soft skills; courses tied to tech matters; accounting. Will employers prefer the JD over BA with 2 years work experience? The market will answer this question of course. So, then your question is whether business employers will still prefer the BA grad.”
The JD Advantage jobs you and Daniel mentioned are wildly diverse, and the coursework will have to reflect that and will have to be more specific than business school lite.* Traditionally, law schools argued that employers in these areas would take JDs over business majors who may have more specific coursework and relevant work experience, because law students (1) are smarter (this claim is now questionable given the declining admissions standards at many law schools), (2) the core law school curriculum imparts unique analytical skills. Expanding on that with more specific preparation for alternative careers needs to be worked into the existing curriculum. I simply do not see how law schools can offer this preparation within the existing formula, while still maintaining the required coursework to maintain accreditation, commitment to clinical or experiential education, holding the line on tuition, etc. etc.
As to your point about requiring work experience, I know Northwestern has always been able to attract students with both excellent academic credentials and work experience- I do not think the rest of the T14, never mind other schools, will be willing/able to replicate that in the current applicant pool. And okay, let’s assume that Loyola wants to become a destination for young compliance associates with a couple years of experience to get an advanced degree, perhaps by specializing in compliance related coursework and programs. Why wouldn’t students prefer a shorter, cheaper, mixed specialty program or an MBA? What is it about “law school” that is going to make a student, or the employer paying their tuition, pony up the extra year or two and a sizeable tuition premium?
*I’ll note that my top 10 law school offered several courses like those you listed as well as a lot of cross-listed business school classes. These were popular but did not seem to play a role in hiring- corporate law firms hired our students because the school was selective, not because they could take Financial Statements Analysis or Corporate Finance as a 2L.
Posted by: BoredJD | Jun 23, 2014 12:36:48 PM
“Who is going to teach these courses? Agree, not the folks you describe in your post. Which programs will law schools cut? Again, the market will push law schools in the relevant directions.”
Law schools are going to have to go to the private sector to find people with these specialties. Some schools may be able to rely on already successful adjuncts to teach classes at bargain prices, but my concern is that they will have the mentality of “I need to be paid enough to compensate me for giving up that six-figure salary I would have earned as head of HR at GE.” This will undoubtedly result in increased costs and higher tuition- as it has when law schools hired top academic performers just starting their legal careers. Again, not sure why the market is relevant to a hypothetical law school planning to offer coursework in, say, human resources.
My more fundamental concern is that you seem to be assuming that the current structure of legal education must be maintained and then asking what can be done to solve the problem. This whole plan sounds suspiciously like a more complex and advanced version of hiring more career services officers to try and help students get jobs, which does little except make it seem like something is being done. We don’t know whether hiring departments would take a JD with a couple of compliance courses over that BA in business with 2 years work experience. But we do know what would solve the problem and be sustainable in the long-term- major cuts to tuition at almost all law schools, put some of the worst offenders out of their misery, and voluntarily maintaining class sizes as responsive to the legal job market in the locale and region (I suspect Northwestern will be one of the few schools that does not have to make such drastic changes). This will result in a lot of pain for the powerful stakeholders in the legal academy, but it is ultimately the way to bring some respect and stability back to the system.
Posted by: BoredJD | Jun 23, 2014 12:48:35 PM
Yes, you are quite right that "the market will decide" is too opaque, and perhaps glib, to be helpful. All I mean is that, whatever our predictions are worth, it will ultimately be the employers who will or will not value what JD holders have on offer. My prediction is more optimistic than yours, and I readily acknowledge that some skepticism is warranted and, further, there will be major differences depending upon the reputation and prestige of the law school at issue.
As an empirical matter, I think you are incorrect about the T14 schools and work experience (although I wish you were right!!). The data I see shows clearly that T14 law schools are admitting classes with much more work experience than before. That is true at Harvard; that is true up and down the "elites." I believe this is a direct response to employers (traditional and non) and their demands for more experienced, mature lawyers.
The question in your penultimate paragraph is the essential one: why would we expect law schools to be well-suited for this? A larger conversation than this comment form allows. But I get that this is the core question.
Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jun 23, 2014 12:49:45 PM
I can't find anything substantial in your second post with which I disagree. The bottom line is that if law schools cannot figure out ways of reshaping their curriculum and teaching budget to account for changing dynamics of legal and business practice, then the game is not worth the candle. Increasing costs and student debt to account for the changes I describe is not an acceptable strategy.
This exchange skips over, however, key questions about whether in fact the marketplace is changing in ways which are collapsing the traditional divide between legal and non-legal jobs. So far as data is concerned (it being, yes indeed, the coin of the realm), there is quite a lot of data that suggests this is already happening. (I mention some scholarship on this in a previous post). State bar authorities (Washington and elsewhere) are making accreditation changes in the shadow of such changes, albeit at one end of the spectrum. And future-looking companies such as Cisco and HSBC are doing so at the other end. What "doing law" is going to mean in, say, fifteen years will be different than what doing law was fifteen years ago. It seems credible to believe that this will have implications for our law schools. To be sure, whether and to what extent law schools can and should adapt to these changes is a difficult question. But we haven't heard here from folks who doubt, with reasons, that these changes are happening.
(And, just one other point to clarify something BoredJD says in his post, it is certainly not my belief, nor my hope, that "current structure of legal education must be maintained." I have tried in various ways to say and to act on behalf of my own law school in ways quite contrary to that statement).
Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jun 23, 2014 1:07:41 PM
"Yes, you are quite right that "the market will decide" is too opaque, and perhaps glib, to be helpful. All I mean is that, whatever our predictions are worth, it will ultimately be the employers who will or will not value what JD holders have on offer. My prediction is more optimistic than yours, and I readily acknowledge that some skepticism is warranted and, further, there will be major differences depending upon the reputation and prestige of the law school at issue."
Right, but you can at least try and predict whether the program is viable by calling up alumni in hiring positions and candidly asking them what it would take to hire your graduates, rather than designing a curriculum, hiring the professors, and then finding out three years later that they are ineffective. And if the answer from employers is "we're not going to hire them no matter what you do" then don't start the program in the first place.
I don't know whether schools did this with their practice-ready legal curricula, but those programs have had negligible effects on employment so far.
I guess my broader point is that there simply may not be a proactive way for law schools to "solve" the employment problem. The people running law schools are very smart and accomplished and too often fall into the trap of thinking they can control what they really can't. In other words, law schools shouldn't run headfirst into a wall (or send their students there) because they fear being seen standing still.
Posted by: BoredJD | Jun 23, 2014 1:56:13 PM
"Right, but you can at least try and predict whether the program is viable by calling up alumni in hiring positions and candidly asking them what it would take to hire your graduates, rather than designing a curriculum, hiring the professors, and then finding out three years later that they are ineffective. And if the answer from employers is "we're not going to hire them no matter what you do" then don't start the program in the first place.
I don't know whether schools did this with their practice-ready legal curricula, but those programs have had negligible effects on employment so far."
I taught at Washington and Lee as its 3L program was being designed and implemented. Alums were the most enthusiastic constituency for this change. I have generally found this to be true when discussing practice-relevant coursework with alums from other schools. Many lawyers point to their clinical experiences as among their favorite and most relevant-to-their-lives-now components of law school.
W&L isn't getting the employment results that had been hoped, and I don't have a good explanation for that. However, it's worth pointing out that it takes - and is certainly taking - years for the word to get out to employers, who do not really follow currents in legal education as closely as those who post and comment here. That the 3L changes began to take root during the Great Recession certainly didn't help.
I'm not sure how much certainty Dan or any dean can provide before taking such leaps into the unknown. The fact is that the market for legal employment is so varied and dispersed, no school can guarantee that the support of its alums is proof against failure. I think the best we can expect from employers is, "We'll hire good, smart people when we have the business to justifying doing so", and: "Here are three things we wish graduates could do." I think Bored JD and others would view the first statement as proof that all law schools can do is re-arrange the deck chairs on the Titanic - unless cabin prices are cut dramatically. I get the supply-and-demand theory at work here, but I'm more optimistic that some law school somewhere can figure out how to provide a set of cross-cutting skills that commands a premium over Generic Law Graduate. If I'm wrong about that, Dan's right that the "market" will let us know. Painfully.
I think that figuring out how to align legal curricula with business programs, etc, is a daunting task. There aren't going to be a lot of close models for doing that, which means we'll be rolling the dice. BJD and I can agree that schools should be clear-eyed about this, though in my experience, few organizations undertake reforms without being pretty convinced, rightly or wrongly, of their necessity. All this merely underscores how difficult this task is. But it's unavoidable.
Posted by: adam | Jun 23, 2014 3:55:46 PM
"W&L isn't getting the employment results that had been hoped, and I don't have a good explanation for that. However, it's worth pointing out that it takes - and is certainly taking - years for the word to get out to employers, who do not really follow currents in legal education as closely as those who post and comment here. That the 3L changes began to take root during the Great Recession certainly didn't help."
The explanation is simple. Justice Scalia chides and mocks Yale Law School and the other elites for teaching what he describes as fluff courses. Yet his clerks are overwhelmingly from those same schools, rather than schools with a more traditional curriculum, because "you can't make a sow's ear out of a silk purse" (h/t ATL). Of course if you tell employers "you're going to get the exact same job applicants, only they'll be marginally more prepared for the workforce" they are going to be happy because it'll save them time and money. But in the end, school reputation, selectivity, the strength of the regional employment market, and alumni connections are going to be the main determinants of a school's placement rate, not whatever flavor of the month program the law school can come up with.
I'm surprised you don't understand this- it's how legal hiring works, whether we're talking Sullivan and Cromwell LLP or Smith and Jones PC.
Posted by: BoredJD | Jun 23, 2014 8:13:29 PM
Bored JD: I'm just catching up with your comment.
We're talking past each other a bit here. I agree that the table for legal hiring is largely set by factors other than the specifics of a particular school's curriculum. I happen to think the W&L curriculum is pedagogically great - but the hoped-for impact on employment was never going to be "transformative". Rather, for any individual school, competing with regional peers, the name of the game is marginal improvement. As you allude, a somewhat readier graduate (and in W&L's case, I think one with a much more distinctive portfolio of learning experiences due to the 3L program) is attractive to employers. Let's say only 10% more attractive, just to be conservative. Any school would love to improve its employment stats by that much.
Turning to the possible future of multi-disciplinary legal education, a law school that cracks this code can open up a small number of jobs for its graduates. Does it seem implausible to you that there might be 10% more opportunities, across a number of fields, for "law-and…" graduates? Not Law and Literature, but Law and Business and the like? Despite the prevalence of joint degree programs, they are usually joint in name only.)
But beyond the possibility of gaining what might be a short-term employment advantage over peers, training lawyers for a professionally borderless world is something we need to do to provide them with the increasingly varied skills they need. Some of these people will be traditional lawyers. Some will be "enhanced lawyers" who can understand the science of biotech patents while navigating cross-border tax and regulatory issues. And some won't even be lawyers at all, but legal professionals who probably don't need a 3-year degree. Law schools have to figure out how to deliver education to all three of these groups, at costs that are justified by their plausible returns.
Posted by: adam | Jun 24, 2014 1:55:56 PM
Although I am a strong supporter of increasing the skills component of the law school curriculum, I am doubtful that a change in the curriculum will have much, if any, impact on law students’ initial hiring prospects – at least in the BigLaw context. I spent close to 30 years in BigLaw serving on (or chairing) recruiting committees. The one thing I never heard in the course of 30 years? “We should hire more students from Law School X because they do a really good job of teaching/training their students.” Instead, we hired law students from Law School X because Law School X admitted smart kids. Whether we hired students from Law School X was based almost entirely on the sorting process that took place before students ever set foot in Law School X. Almost none of it was based on what Law School X actually did with its students over the course of three years. Maybe that will change if BigLaw concludes that law schools are serious about teaching skills to their students – but I’m not holding my breath. There are many good reasons for law schools get serious about teaching skills to their students, but increasing short-term employment prospects probably isn’t one of them.
(I’m even more skeptical that adding a handful of classes addressing the “interface between law-business-technology” -- whatever that actually means – would have any material impact on students’ employment prospects.)
Posted by: BeachCruiser | Jun 24, 2014 3:51:45 PM
Dan, I appreciate your interest in my post. I've posted some additional thoughts on this important topic on Faculty Lounge here: http://www.thefacultylounge.org/2014/06/more-thoughts-on-self-delusion-in-the-legal-academy-and-an-effort-to-engage-the-aals.html
Posted by: Bernie Burk | Jun 28, 2014 4:27:45 PM
Thank you for your note and your very thoughtful, illuminating post, which I confess I have just skimmed. I will certainly look at it more closely in the coming days and will post something here afterward. Meanwhile, thanks for both the kind words and for your obviously valuable contributions to debates, both important and controversial.
Posted by: dan rodriguez | Jun 28, 2014 4:42:30 PM