|OK, here's your order! Would you like to Super-size your JD with a Specialization in Entertainment Law or Space Law?|
Sigh. What to say, what to say. Let's just launch right in, shall we?
Chicago-Kent's new 1L Your Way program, debuting next fall, permits new students to defer selected first-year course work to a subsequent year in favor of taking an upper-division elective, such as patent law or business organizations. This option is designed for first-year students with defined practice goals. For example, students who plan to practice intellectual property law or corporate law often begin law school with that goal in mind.
"We're providing new opportunities for students who want to hit the ground running," said Dean Harold J. Krent. "Those of our students who know that they want to concentrate in a particular practice area are eager to start specializing in the first year, and the summer job market often rewards them for doing so."
"Your Way?" Ah, the fast-food drive-thru analogies abound. This has been touched on before:
We all knew it would come to this eventually. The legal profession — once reserved for studious minds who diligently ponder the most complex moral, ethical, and legal issues of the day — has been reduced to a collection of short-order cooks, who whip up documents instead of eggs and toast. Actually, that change probably happened many years ago. Generations ago, even. But there is something visual striking about the new Connecticut offices of the Kocian Law Firm. The firm is operating out of an old Kenny Rogers Roasters building. The Kocian lawyers are keeping the drive-thru window — and they’re using it as an easy and efficient way to exchange documents and quick advice with their clients.
Our own Law School Truth Center has a thing or two to say about this as well:
Ah, metro east St. Louis: drive by shootings AND drive by criminal defending. If there's one thing the thugs of East St. Louis need, it's to shout about their sexual assault case into a static-heavy mic. If only someone would come up with some sort of portable communication device that could allow people to set appointments more conveniently; until then, he's got the market for convenience covered. Clients will no doubt take you seriously running a law practice out of an abandoned bank.
Anyway, back to having it "Your Way." Sounds great in principle, but the proposed pay-off (specialization translates to 1L summer opportunity and eventual jobs) remains to be seen.
To begin with, law schools have offered "specializations" for quite some time now, and I think most graduates would say that they fall flat. Many, many JDs have "IP Specialization" or "Business Law Specialization" or "ADR Specialization" or "Environmental Law Specialization" gold stars on their diplomas, and, well, the flood gates of opportunity did not exactly throw themselves open. Look at the dismal employment stats and skewed, bi-modal income distributions, for example.
Additionally, law schools have had 2L/3L clinics for years, which are touted as the experiential "workhorse" compared to the typical 1L core class or 2L upper-level class. While some practical experience is certainly a good idea, many JDs have complained about how little time they actually get to do substantive work through the clinics. The fact that 90 credit hours get in the way of practical experience is certainly a part of this difficulty, but also the sheer volume of students seeking these opportunities (*cough* *cough* JD overproduction *cough* *cough* open enrollment *cough* *cough*) naturally limits what any one student gets to do. Here's hoping the law schools have spent some time reviewing and seriously updating this angle.
Finally, the proposal stands to create some "odd duck" 1Ls compared to the rest of the herd. Firms already know students don't know anything - they don't hire you based on your "knowledge" anyway. They hire your for (1) pedigree, (2) connections, and (3) grades, among other things. Shifting classes around, like rearranging chairs on the Titanic, does not do much to affect an outcome that really has nothing to do with straight-up academics or practice-readiness in the first place. Plus, the hiring lawyers already went through the "classical" legal education process themselves, and now you as the Your-Way student come to the table with a different set of credentials. I can hear it now - "Wait, you've taken a class on Business Organizations, but not on Contracts or Property? How does that work?" As a 2L, when "real" summer associate opportunities "open up," (or so I was told but never saw, personally), the classes and experiences that students have obtained have equalized out, anyway.
Plus, who got legal jobs their 1L summer, anyway? I mean, connected people, yes, but your average Joe rising 2L? The 1Ls I knew took summer classes, studied abroad, or did something else to fill their time. No one I contacted, be they paying gigs or even externships, even wanted to look at you unless your were a 2L, and this was the going advice at the time.
As a side note, it will be interesting to see what classic 1L classes get pushed back to later years in favor of more "practical" classes under Your-Way-type programs (my personal prediction is Con Law - sorry, all you civil-rights and free-speech lovin' LawProfs, but those are the breaks when it comes to what the majority of firms deal with and bill for).
Overall, while "Having it Your Way" may be a nice idea, it comes (1) too, too late, and (2) can't do enough on its own. The issue is JOBS, folks, and no amount of "practice readiness" changes the legal market or undos decades of JD overproduction. A related issue is PRICE, folks, as these JDs need to service huge amounts of debt thanks to this so-called practice-readiness that has been bestowed upon them. If half as many practice-ready JDs were produced at half the cost, for example, then graduates could afford to pursue less-remunerative but more available opportunities early on in their careers. It's a balance.
Oh, but wait, IBR, say the ScamDeans. Right. I'm sure the American Taxpayer just loves the idea of bailing out billions of dollars worth of student loans that are going essentially unpaid, to produce more practice-ready JDs than the market needs. I see what you did there with your "ethics" and "professionalism."
This practice-ready canard is perhaps well-meant, but it is certainly well-played, make no mistake. False hope will draw many students (and their sweet, sweet federal student loan dollars) into the fold. The more things change, the more they stay the same.