When you see this headline on the front page of the Sunday New York Times, you know that a dirty little secret of legal education is getting a public airing:
What They Donâ€™t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.
The Times has been fantastic in digging below the surface on issues in the law over the past year. They even managed to focus beyond the issue of associate training at law firms, since that is just one component. Reporter David Segal sounded out FMC GC Jeff Carr, who trenchantly summarizes the state of law students when they graduate:
They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they arenâ€™t ready to be a provider of services.
If you haven’t seen the article, read it. I am particularly gratified that some forward thinkers in the academy see the importance of corporate counseling. There was a time when all law schools offered on the practical components of legal training was moot court. After many years in the in-house space, you realize that you spend huge amounts of time trying to stay out of any court, moot or not.
One small note. The article is very complimentary to the law firm of Drinker, Biddle and Reath over its training for young associates. One instructor/partner asks the class a few preliminary questions about how to close a merger:
â€œThe question is, when you close a merger, how does that deal get done?â€
After a few responses (like “buying all the stock”), the instructor offers that you simply draft a certificate of merger and file it with the secretary of state.
When I read this, I thought back to numerous acquisitions as an in-house lawyer. And the biggest lesson was that “getting the deal done” was not really getting anything done at all. It was the post-closing matters, such as integrating people and processes, that proved far more difficult and took a lot more time.
Most practicing lawyers have known for decades that the current legal education model is seriously flawed. At least three erroneous predicates are part of the problem: (a) assume a client; (b) all important matters are decided by appellate courts; and (c) more research and longer writing equals greater authority.
The historical law school staffing model is flawed as well. Most law professors never practiced law. Fewer still practiced corporate law. And almost none spent time in the in-house environment.
And the handful of intrepid souls who did these things and joined the academy would likely be looked down upon by colleagues, some of whom saw law firms and the practice of corporate law as selling out.
The one thing we can say now is that anyone contemplating law school should know about the flaws of the education and the challenges of gainful employment. Due diligence, taught nowhere in law school, is essential for those thinking about starting.