Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Stop Dreaming: Law School will never be 'Practical'‏

The silliest belief involving "da scam" is to think that the schools will reform themselves. One of the most common refrains, especially from in-the-establishment soft-boiled "reformers", is to make law school more "practical", and teach you "how to practice". Practice, practice, practice, and jobs will magically appear! Even Professor Dumbledumb and the Scamdeans wouldn't object too much, as long as the "practice" part is only a small fraction of law school—which is the problem. From a comment on JD Underground, someone was trying to defend their law school, a highly-ranked school which is nonetheless scarcely known outside of the state and probably does not place any better than other schools:

Washington & Lee is actually one of the very few schools who take teaching practice seriously, and have done what so many on this board have advocated: replace third year with essentially a bunch of immersion experiences where you do quazi-real legal work, as opposed to attending lectures. It's clearly not perfect, and a far cry from a real two-year paid residency (minimum) that is needed, but given the constraints of the current system, it's something...

Alas, this "immersion" does nothing to help us! It is doomed like a prostitute in purgatory, for two biggies:

One, we don't really care about any particular school, but about all legal education. One school could improve its placement stats, but it doesn't help anyone else. W&L can teach Swahili Common Law if they wish to, and it wouldn't help or hurt anything because the problem is with the market's limited supply of legal jobs. That market cannot (and does not want to) place the nearly 45,000-strong army of new J.D.'s birthed every spring. So the objection that others have already stated, that any improvement in an individual school's career services, or pedagogy, would not increase the supply of jobs but only help one school's graduates at the expense of the other schools', defeats the point of W&L's newfound admiration of actual legal skills. It is like stealing from your neighbors during a famine and pretending that you have solved world hunger.

Two, what "they" have not bothered to say is that the effort to teach skills is doomed for another, darker reason: it would render the purpose of law school obsolete. The more practice-based skills a school teaches, the more people will question whether any law school is needed at all. After all, if you want to know skills, the only way (or, at the least, by far the most efficient way) is to do them, on the job.  But then, why pay tuition for on-the-job training? Why pay the Professor Dumbledumbs of academia $55,000 grand a year for the privilege of taking an "externship" in the third year of that? (When you are already 175k in the red). You may as well be one of those work-for-free-to-build-experience-while-mommy-pays-rent types, since even working for free is a better deal than paying $55 grand a year and working for free. This is why the schools only permit talk of outsourcing for the "third-year", leaving the first two years of love intact. W&L has inadvertently confessed that the third-year of law school isn't necessary, or they could not have afforded to forgo 1/3 of classes that a law graduate would have normally taken. The JDU poster didn't mention that. If it is so important to "think like a lawyer", but the third year can be spent on "immersion experiences", then surely we can learn to "think like a lawyer" in two years? And if "immersion experiences" are just as valuable, or even more valuable than lecture halls, why not drop the formal legal education entirely? Or send it back to undergrad, so we can get our L.L.B. in four years and stop this madness?

So there you have it: The more value we place on "immersion" (i.e., real-life work that actually is connected with what clients want), the less value we place on badly-run Socratic method-based lectures. But what will happen to the Professor Dumbledumbs and their precious never-read-except-by-the-editors-who-laugh-at-them journals?Oh no! The more law schools attempt to "modernize", the more they defeat their own purpose for existing. The way schools like W&L are going, turning the third year into a virtual apprenticeship, should make us question the point of any law school at all.

Preston Bell ( is the author of the (free) book-length satire/exposé, Smarter Than Socrates: The End of the Law School Era.


  1. You may have hit on a good point Preston. When schools teach skills that are best learned on the job, they are essentially admitting that the schools are themselves useless.

    Which they are already, but still.

    Law should be an undergraduate degree. End of story. Book closed. Lights off and go to sleep. No, really go to fucking sleep, it's almost ten o'clock and your mother and I want to bang. Shut the hell up. Jeez, why did I have kids? (Yes, the story is that ended. Basic legal education has no place at the graduate level.)

    And when the obvious change (like close half the law schools, or make law schools just undergrad departments, simple stuff like that) is just so easy to do, but so difficult at the same time, it's depressing.

    I would love to wake up tomorrow and see the system changed. But I will wake up in ten years and I bet we are still having this debate, all because of the greed of law professors and the ABA.

    Just plain old greed.

    1. Exactly - what is it about "thinking like a lawyer" that requires 3 years of extra training? Doesn't a philosophy major have the exact same skepticism and need for rational proof? Couldn't you teach legal procedure, theory, and writing as upper-level courses in a good philosophy/political science/law department?

      Accounting is just as vital as a profession as law and you can sit for the CPA exam and become licensed with far less training than 7-8 years. The current system is nothing more than protectionist BS.

  2. On February 17, 2012, Paul Campos wrote a brilliant entry entitled "The message." Look at the following excerpt:

    "Let us do a little exercise.

    Contrary to the disturbing things you may have read in the New York Times, legal education is actually changing in all sorts of wonderful ways, which are making our students far more practice-ready upon graduation.

    There aren't enough jobs.

    Contrary to the disturbing things etc., legal scholarship has entered a golden age, and is producing all sorts of wonderful insights regarding how to make The Best Legal System in the World even better.

    There aren't enough jobs."

    Middling commodes like to puff out their chests, and claim that they are producing "practice ready" lawyers. The big-ass obstacle is the lack of attorney jobs for freshly-minted JDs. There are tons of graduates - armed with clinic experience, moot/fake court, trial advocacy, pre-trial ad, etc. - who now work in non-law positions.

    Drafting, researching and arguing motions in limine does not really help you in most jobs. Neither does conducting client interviews, or talking to witnesses in criminal cases. ABA-accredited trash pits will continue to bill these programs as transformational. However, there are nowhere near enough jobs to justify these projects.

    If any of your current or former "law professors" tells you that you can go hang out a shingle, immediately ask him "Why don't you do that, if it is such good advice? Have you ever set up shop by yourself?"

    1. You hit the nail on the head, Nandster. "There aren't enough jobs."

    2. I think that is a deceptively brilliant point: if hanging out a shingle really works, why have 99% of lawprofs never tried it? If it works so well, why is post-law school unemployment at 50+%?

      I learned nothing about my state law in law school, just federal MBE-type of case law. My experience, cutting my teeth as a solo criminal lawyer is tough without a supervisor, mentor, or accessible court info about proper procedure. If law school helped with this void in my knowledge, it would have helped me blunder less blindly, but I'd still be a struggling solo in a glutted market.

      Law schools are doublimg down anyway. In my upcoming post, I talk about Yale's first class of Law Ph.Ds! Oh, 10,500 people applied for five spots!!! They want to feed these people into the already harsh applicant pool of federal clerkships and, you guessed it, new law professor jobs.

  3. There is no point in law school other than it being a hoop to jump through on the way to practicing (and learning) law in a law office.

  4. new lst report released today - what are your thoughts?

    also, lsac seems to be way behind on releasing fall 2012 admissions data on their website. clearly all this data is available if its been published via USNWR.

  5. You jerks. Campos is in the news today and you missed it so far.

    A Bronx cheer for this blog.

    11 naval gazing authors behind on the latest news updates.

    1. Why don't you join up and post news stories?

    2. Apocalypse Roach promised us all kinds of terrible miracles and "fallout."

      Instead of springing into action as anticipated, the police simply laughed at him and told him to fuck off.

      Now he's molted again - say hello to Bitter Disgruntled Roach!

  6. Great post, Preston.

    Have a look at W&L's employment stats at Law School Transparency. 55% of the Class of 2011 got fulltime longterm jobs requiring bar passage. Pretty bad for a T30--you can burrow into the depths of the second tier and find schools with better, or at least comparable numbers. The practicum thingee has generated all sorts of favorable publicity for W&L, but it is striking that employers are unenthusiastic.

    1. W&L, that's one school I can't believe is in the top ranks. It's regional at best. Not sure how those fuckers scammed their way into the top ranks, but it's an expensive private school in VA, out in the middle of nowhere. Trash. Must have had some connections in the past.

      I would say that a big city school is far better than W&L.

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