I think we’ve all noticed how invested the legal academy is in telling us that they produce “practice ready” graduates. But there is scant research on what actually makes one “practice ready” versus “effectively useless.” Some law deans tell us that clinics and “experiential learning” are particularly important. But are they? Or is that just a nice line you can use to fleece prospective law students who don’t know any better?

A new Harvard study takes a look at what law school classes actually helped graduates once they got into Biglaw. I know, I know, every school outside of the top 20 is now screaming about how “there’s more than BIGLAW, stupid Elie.” But if there are schools that just want to ADMIT that they’re not preparing their students for Biglaw jobs that they’re never going to get, please feel free to ignore the lessons of this study. For everybody else who wants to pretend that their students have a reasonable chance at taking the jobs with the highest salaries, there’s some interesting stuff here…

Harvard professors Jesse M. Fried, John C. Coates IV, and Kathryn E. Spier conducted the study: What Courses Should Law Students Take? Harvard’s Largest Employers Weigh In. The study is summarized on TaxProf Blog. They surveyed 124 Biglaw lawyers about what business courses were most useful from law school.

Note how highly rated the “soft skills” classes are. Negotiations workshop. Business strategy. “Leadership.” That’s classroom teaching, but it’s the kind of stuff you’d also expect to see at a business school instead of black-letter law teaching. You don’t need a JD/MBA, you need a school that understands that lawyers need business training.

Here’s another interesting slide. Outside of the “business courses,” here are regular courses that Biglaw lawyers — including litigators — found helpful:

A comment on TaxProf Blog, from “Unemployed Northeastern,” says:

Wow – Northeastern offers none of the courses in Question 2, only 8 of the 14 courses in Question 5, and is even missing 3 or 4 of the basic offerings in Question 6. No wonder our on-campus recruitment and employment outcomes are so poor…

I don’t highlight that to dump all over Northeastern — which goes out of its way to promote its “practice ready” curriculum. I’m highlighting it to point out that what we think makes someone “practice ready” might not be supported by any hard facts about what people in practice need to be ready for. Do you need to take a clinic working on Social Security disability claims? Or is that time better spent in Conflict of Laws and a workshop on client management?

These questions likely have quantitative answers. But we need more people studying what works for employers instead of promoting what sells to prospective law students.

What Courses Should Law Students Take? Harvard’s Largest Employers Weigh In [SSRN]
Harvard Survey of Big Law: What Courses Should Students Take? [TaxProf Blog]

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