Under new management?

There has been a lot of talk in the media lately about how law schools are failing to adequately prepare recent graduates for the working world. Because after having your nose in a book for three years, let’s face it, you probably don’t know how to do “useful things with the law” that would actually help a client.

Law schools have also been under fire for their apparently inability to employ recent graduates in the legal work force. While some law schools are simply gaming their employment numbers, others are creating temporary employment opportunities so their graduates can be employed at graduation.

And in the spirit of killing two birds with one stone, law schools may soon have a solution for both of these problems. Instead of inventing temporary jobs to make you “practice-ready,” they might invent a whole law firm….

Brooklyn Law School Professor Bradley Borden and University of Maryland School of Law Professor Robert Rhee have got a proposition for law schools in their article “The Law School Firm.” They want law schools to open their own law firms. The National Law Journal has more information on how these firms might operate:

Professors Robert Rhee and Bradley Borden

The firms would be entities distinct from the law schools, and would be professionally managed and generate revenue, although they would be operated as nonprofits. Senior attorneys would be hired to oversee the firms’ practice areas, and recent law school graduates would spend fixed periods, perhaps three or six years, at the firm before moving on. …

For clients, these firms would offer low-cost legal representation in practice areas underserved by the existing lawyer population . . . . Low costs would be possible because the junior attorneys would earn salaries similar to those in public interest law. The firms would place less pressure to bill on attorneys than do large firms, and would designate time for lawyer training.

This actually sounds like a promising idea — one that might be just what law schools need in order to produce successful attorneys in a stagnant economy. And as Professor Rhee notes, this may sound like a “radical” idea to some, but only in that law schools are so obstinate to change their ways.

But in light of the way that law schools hate change, such a program may come with some negative side effects after law schools tack on their money-making spin.

For example, this proposal preaches that people should go to law school for three years (or two, under this proposal), take out hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, pay exorbitant amounts of money in order to acquire little to no useful practice skills, and then go to law firm school, where they will be paid little to no money. Sign me up?

And while we’re on the topic of money, let’s not forget about loan repayment assistance programs. These law school firms will pay you like you’re working in public interest law, but are you actually working in public interest law? And even if you are classified as working in public interest law, will these “low cost” law school firms try to pay their employees just enough money so that law schools can avoid LRAP payouts?

These are exactly the kinds of problems that I can foresee happening if we switch to a law school firm model. But what do you think? Are law school firms the new wave of the future in legal education and practice?

What if law schools opened their own law firms? [National Law Journal]


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