Out with the Old in with the New:

The Future of the Law School

Sep

16

Out with the Old in with the New: The Future of the Law School

The study and teaching of law is one of the longest standing professions entrenched with deep-rooted traditions.  The first institution established in the United States for the sole purpose of teaching law was at Litchfield Law School in 1784 followed by Harvard, Penn, Yale, Albany and Columbia. In 1906, the Association of American Law Schools adopted the requirement that a law school consist of a three-year course of study.[1]  While the profession is alive and well, is it time to examine if this is the best method of training the next generation of lawyers?

How many of you graduated from law school knowing how to be an attorney?  What about how to run a law practice? How to manage and bring in new clients?  The best way to handle trust accounts?  Law schools do a wonderful job teaching us how to “think” like a lawyer, but they fall short on teaching us how to actually be one.  Many law schools tweak their curriculum to help their students pass the various bar exams, yet their students still have to spend thousands of dollars on private bar review courses.  While it is quite important to expose law students to various areas of the law, do law schools need to offer a full semester of courses on subjects that are purely elective and very specialized? Would it make better use of our time and money to have an omnibus course hitting on different practice areas?  How about getting rid of the entire third classroom year altogether and institute an apprentice or legal residency program?

Let’s not forget about the overwhelming cost of law school.  There is $1.26 trillion in total U.S. student loan debt and 40% of that debt is from graduate and professional degrees (4% of that 40% is law school).[2]  Law students graduate with an average loan debt of $130,000.  How does this impact our job decisions? We are forced to take higher paying jobs so we can pay off our loans, instead of taking government/public sector jobs or jobs that we may be more passionate about, but that pay less.  The cost of law school continues to rise to the detriment of the students and the people we are trained to serve. Law schools continue to raise tuition, while banks and the government continue to dish out loans.  This one issue is dramatically impacting our profession and altering the legal landscape.  One possible solution: one less year of law school.

I am not suggesting getting rid of our hazing ritual of the Socratic method, or the sharing/stealing of each other’s outlines, or the fun task of highlighting and tabbing every page of our 100 lbs. law school book.  However, I do believe there needs to be a national dialogue dissecting the law school anatomy to determine what is, and what is not, essential for the success of our profession.  Have we as a society evolved to the point that the deep-rooted traditional law school is no longer the best practice?

Nikki Fried is an appointed member of the Young Lawyer Board of Governor.  She owns her own firm, Igniting Florida, which is a full-service lobbying firm.

[1] Albert J. Hamo, Legal Education in the United States: A Report Prepared for the Survey of the Legal Profession (1953)

[2] Student Loan Hero, Inc. https://studentloanhero.com

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