When you hear a story about the travails of U.S. law schools and law students on the radio, perhaps it is a sign.
This morning it was NPR, covering the recent ABA report about how job prospects for law grads are even worse than previously thought. (For some reason this conclusion seems about 3 years late).
For all the welcome debate about what law school is, who it really is for, and how well it performs, there are welcome signs. And those signs are coming from beyond law school.
The first thing about change, experts say, is to know you have a problem. Here are three comments I have seen in the last month or so that show some are focusing on the bigger picture:
The first was Fred Barlit, talking about his firm’s answer to this challenge:
We established the Bartlit Beck University teaching our lawyers all the skills needed in our profession.
Then there was Richard Susskind, tweeting about a conference at which he was a featured speaker:
Finally we have Lincoln Caplan in the New York Times taking aim at the law school status quo:
But in some ways the crisis of law schools goes well beyond the unsustainable economics. Their missions have become muddled, with a widening gap between their lofty claims about the profession’s civic responsibility and their failure to train lawyers for public service or provide them with sufficient preparation for practical work.
In all three cases, there is a discernible focus on what happens after law school. After all, there are many more practicing lawyers than there are law students. And I am not talking about CLE (I have commented on that here).
There are many reasons why law school has a tough time with the “lawyering” stuff. One that comes to mind is that many (if not most) law professors never practiced law in a supervisory setting (i.e., law firm partner or in-house managing counsel). If you haven’t managed someone, it is hard to know what skills are needed to help others get where you are.
I am hopeful that the observations of Messrs. Beck, Susskind and Caplan will start to raise the profile of lawyer skills to an equal footing with legal knowledge for practicing attorneys. I expect those leading change will be better at mixing practical skills with knowledge of the law.
(Tilting at windmills is OK, as long as you pick the right windmills.)