Alan Dershowitz, Dahlia Lithwick, Education / Schools, Law Schools, Student Loans

How Can We Fix Law School? Six Experts Opine

To accompany Noam Scheiber’s big article on Biglaw — which I discussed yesterday, and Anonymous Partner analyzed this morning — the New Republic asked six prominent observers of the legal profession (including yours truly) for their ideas on how to fix law school. For all of the blame that Biglaw gets for the profession’s problems, some of the difficulties can be traced back to the legal academy and how it teaches and trains lawyers (or fails to do so).

Let’s check out the various reform proposals. Which ones do you agree with?

You can read all of the proposals in full over here. What follows are my quick summaries of and responses to them.

1. Alan Dershowitz: Make Law School “Two Years-Plus”

I agree with Professor Dershowitz’s proposal. In fact, I floated a similar proposal in a piece for the New York Times two years ago.

2. Mike Kinsley: Lose the Socratic Method

Michael Kinsley suggests a whole host of changes, including reducing classroom instruction to two years, beefing up clinical requirements, and getting rid of the Socratic Method. I’m undecided on that last change. I agree with him that it’s “an incredibly inefficient way to convey information,” but it does have some pedagogical value for the students it tortures. As Professor Dershowitz told the Harvard Crimson, “The whole practice of law is Socratic. You can’t be an effective advocate without mastering the Socratic method.”

3. Paul Campos: Stop Unlimited Loaning to Law School Students

I support Professor Campos’s call for reform. (I was actually going to write about law school lending for my own contribution to the forum, but found that I couldn’t fit all that I had to say about the subject in 350 words.)

4. Dahlia Lithwick: Fewer People Should Go to Law School—and More Should Drop Out

Lithwick also favors the model of two years of classroom instruction and one year of more practical training, but here’s her twist: put the clinical component “at the first year, not the third. The hope is that a year of practicing taking depositions, doing document review, and interviewing cranky clients might have helped clarify for many of us, early and often, that we won’t all get to be Clarence Darrow.” It’s an interesting idea, and it might help winnow the 1L field. (The drawback is that it’s more logical to teach the theory first and then provide the clinical training, which is what medical schools do.)

5. David Lat: Make a Post-College Gap Mandatory

I went straight from college to law school, basically because I didn’t know what else to do with myself. I’m glad I went to law school — I enjoyed my years in practice, and I use my legal education and training in my current job — but the world was very different back then. Law school cost half of what it does today (I graduated without any debt), and legal employment was plentiful. Today, with tuition through the roof and jobs through the floor, prospective law students should be forced to explore other options. And the way to get them to do that is by borrowing from the business-school model: require some post-undergraduate experience of entering students.

6. Mark Chandler: Let Students Intern for Money and Credit

Chandler, general counsel at Cisco Systems, will be rolling out the following program, in connection with the University of Colorado School of Law:

Students will work as interns at Cisco for seven months–from June of the second year of law school until the following January, and potentially part-time during the following spring. We will pay them as we do our customary interns, and the students will not be required to pay tuition to the law school for the fall semester. The students will be supervised by a faculty member during the fall through an intensive credit-earning independent study project, and the students will also take extra courses during the rest of law school to ensure sufficient ABA-approved credits to graduate.

That sounds like an excellent and worthwhile experiment. As Chandler points out, however, pushing innovation farther in this direction will require changes to the American Bar Association’s rules and accreditation requirements for law schools. Let’s hope the ABA takes action on this front to promote flexibility and creativity in legal education.

So that’s what the panel of six had to say about fixing law school. What ideas would you put on the table for reforming legal education?

How to Fix Law School Six experts tell us what they’d change [The New Republic]
The Last Days of Biglaw [The New Republic]

Earlier: Is Being A Partner The Worst Job In Biglaw?

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