9/16/10

Who Wants to go to a Vocational Law School?

Law.com had a post this week with a great quote from an AGC of United Technologies. He basically called recent law school graduates “worthless.”
Ahh – this lovely quote took me back in time. Some time back in the 90’s I attended a seminar that covered this same subject. After sitting through the general session, I renamed it the "Whose Fault is it?" Seminar. The program was a collaboration of the Organized Bar, the Law Schools and the Private Bar (a.k.a. law firms). Everyone agreed that law school graduates did not graduate with the necessary practical skills needed for actually practicing law. But then everyone disagreed on who was to blame for this.
Law schools were following the proud tradition of educating students on the foundations of the law using the ever-popular Socratic method. The organized bar was then testing them to see if they actually learned these foundations and then spit them out on to the market. Law firms would then give these newly minted lawyers a half-day course on WordPerfect 5.1, the gold standard of the day, and set them to billing time. Depending on which section of the audience you represented, the blame was placed on: A) law schools for not teaching sufficient (if any) practice skills, B) the organized bar for not actually testing these people on real-world skills, or C) law firms for not properly training new lawyers. This engaging dialogue lead to … more of the same.
There have been a few changes since then. My former employer, the Utah State Bar, instituted a Mentor Program. Some law schools have added practice management courses (electives though). And law firms have professional development professionals on staff. But the bottom line, especially for Chester Paul Beach, is that the core problem remains. Only he clearly blames the law schools. IMHO the system should shoulder the blame and not any one component.
At the end of the seminar I attended I was conversing with a law school dean about how law schools might adapt and adjust to address this problem. The response: “We won’t be taking that path any time soon. We’re academic institutions, not vocational schools.”
Classic and oddly prophetic.

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6 comments:

Kate Taylor Battle said...

“We won’t be taking that path any time soon. We’re academic institutions, not vocational schools.”

That's a very interesting comment to make. What if medical school decided not to teach their students practical skills anymore? I think most medical schools would consider themselves to have both academic and practical skills courses.

Both law school and medical school are at a level higher than your average community vo-tech, but they are both schools that claim to prepare its students to enter industries that provide practical services to their clients. Law schools should move past the pretention of strictly teaching academia so they can better prepare their students to serve clients.

Steven B. Levy, author of Legal Project Management said...

"Vocational school" may as a phrase leave a sour taste, but ultimately there are only three types of schooling: You learn how to learn, you theories and concepts, or you learn how to do something.

By the graduate level (e.g., law school), you should have learned how to learn. Now... do you want to be a theorist in some area, whether philosophy, 14th century English history, or law, or do you want to do practical work? While I have nothing against either philosophy or 14th century English history, and actually enjoy both of them, if I need to engage an attorney, I'd want her to be someone who knows how to "lawyer" rather than a theorist on the law.

Mike Whelan said...

I decided as a student just to teach myself. I started a club at UTexas for future solo attorneys and used that as a springboard to bring in attorneys to tell us about the practice of law. I have worked for two different solo firms and am in a clinic now. Law school doesn't teach everything I need but it's required to get me licensed, so I do it and supplement it. Reading all these business books probably hasn't helped my grades any. Still, I am learning how to provide value to clients then charge them accordingly. That's what law school needs to teach. But they don't, so law students just need to recognize the gaps and fill them in. That's true of really any level of education. It sucks but it's possible.

mghune05 said...

After graduating from law school in 1981 I worked for Jones Day as their librarian while I studied for the bar. At that time Jones Day had a "program" where their new associates worked with different practice groups (I think for 2 years) while they honed their skills and the firm figured their fit in the organization. Sometime not long after that when new associate salaries hit the high $90's firms started to expect that their new associates should be able to hit the ground running right out of law school.

Ten years later working at William and Mary Law Library, we partnered with the Legal Writing faculty to teach a required 2 year course that incorporated research, writing and lawyering skills. Having worked in a law firm I tried to provide my students with a "real life" type experience as I helped them work through the issues presented by their client and find options and solutions through their research. I believe they did some follow up studies on the students when they got to their firms to see if they felt they were prepared and the faculty opinion was that the program was highly successful.

If the firms expect "seasoned" professionals out of law school the academic community should work with the private bar to incorporate mandatory internships for law students. My daughter is in architecture and design and she has a mandatory internship to graduate; medical students engage in internship/residency programs on graduating from med school; teachers do student teaching. Why require less of graduating law students?

Tom O said...

“We won’t be taking that path any time soon. We’re academic institutions, not vocational schools.”

On one of our many attmepts to get a law school to offer a law technology institute of one kind or another, Browning Marean and I were told by the dean of a (prominent) law school ... "we train architects not carpenters?"

Is there a graduate program in Arrogant Head Poking in the Sand that law school administrators are required to attend in order to get their jobs?

Anonymous said...

When I graduated law school in 1972, and went to work for legal services, they too (like most law firms at the time) had a program for new hires that covered skills training. We spent a few weeks (the memory of the exact length of time fades, as does much else) doing moot trials, writing briefs and pleadings (on yellow legal pads), interviewing pretend clients, etc. We were, of course, critiqued on our work by experienced lawyers on staff.
Perhaps if the practicing bar wants the law schools to take on that job, they could endow a few chairs in skills training in each school. And suggest what other parts of legal education can be dispensed with.

 

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