The Worthlessness of American Legal Education

You'll get more practical knowledge out of this than you'll get out of three years at most law schools.

You’ll get more practical knowledge out of this than you’ll get out of three years at most law schools.

When I went to law school, it absolutely shocked me to learn how much the legal academy despises legal practitioners. In fact, laypeople might not know that for those who aspire to teach in a law school, it is considered to be a negative to have “too much” practice experience. The conventional wisdom is that once you’ve practiced for three years, that’s all you need in order to be a professor. More than that, and you’re considered to be “too experienced.” Less than that, however, is just fine. Go poke around some law school websites and look at the C.V.s of law professors. You may find some experience there, but you’ll be shocked at how many people with a few months of experience practicing law are responsible for training the next generation of lawyers.

We don’t teach you how to practice law. We teach you how to “think like a lawyer.” PFFFFFT!

One infamous quote that gets batted around the practical blawgosphere is this one:

We don’t want law school to be lawyer-training school. When we cave in to demands of that sort from the ABA and assorted study commissions, we actually invite alienation among law students and lawyers. Legal education should appreciate the depth of the legal discourse and explore its rich complexities. It should operate on a graduate-school level and graduate people truly learned in the law. –Marquette Prof. David Papke.

Papke took a beating for this from the practical blawgosphere. See, e.g., Greenfield, Gideon, Tannenbaum, and Bennett. Of course, no full-time law professors criticized him. Nobody wants to upset the academic apple cart — more appropriately described as a circle jerk.

Is it any wonder then that law schools don’t usually teach law students jack about how to practice law? Can you imagine any other profession where it would be a bona fide occupational requirement that you should be relatively (if not entirely) inexperienced in whatever it is you are teaching? As Tannenbaum put it:

In medical school we teach students about the body, its organs, how it works, how it reacts to certain factors, and what causes disease and sickness. Then the “doctors” do a “residency” where they focus on the practicalities of “doctoring.”

In law, we give “lawyers” a degree, that they can immediately frame, hang up in an office and greet unknowing clients. The law school having “done their job.” Some law schools embrace clinical programs and practical education, others, believe that a practicing lawyer is evidence of the failure of the law school’s education.

Apparently the people trying cases and arguing motions are not well versed in the law. They’re “just lawyers.” (source)

With this as an introduction to the legal academy, there are a couple of stories going around in which the legal academy either acknowledges its uselessness, or it damn well ought to. At least to those of you outside the bubble, it should demonstrate that legal education is broken and should be completely overhauled and reinvented.

Go Solo — Even though we didn’t teach you a damn thing!

A dispatch laugh from the guild of “I don’t know how to do it, but I’ll teach others how.” At least one law school is suggesting that students consider going solo after graduation.

Back in the “good old days,” (last year) law students went to law school for three years. While at law school, (for the most part) they attended lectures by, by and large, professors who never practiced law. They learned nothing. After three years, some law firm picked up that student on the basis of his grades in his “think like a lawyer” classes, and then gave him two years worth of paid training until he had a clue how to practice law.

That’s how I became a lawyer.

When I got my shiny new Georgetown Law degree, but had absolutely no clue how to draft a notice of appearance. I had no idea how to bill a client. My memos of law were like law review articles. My client letters were even worse. A client would ask a simple question and get a 10 page, well-written and well-researched treatise on the issue – but that isn’t what a client is looking for. Fortunately, I had patient mentors who told me “forget all the crap you learned in law school, we will teach you how to be a lawyer now.”

Unfortunately, the legal profession is in a state of free-fall because clients have gotten sick of paying for first-year associate billing when the first-year associate doesn’t know a damn thing about how to practice law. Clients are, correctly, saying that they shouldn’t have to pay to train new lawyers. So clients don’t want to pay to train them, but the law schools don’t want to train them either. So, they tell them to go solo!

Should we really turn out a few thousand solo practitioners a year who have been taught by those who couldn’t hack it as practitioners? Then what? Just have them “figure it out” on their own? This all as a reaction to the glut of lawyers created by — you guessed it, the academy.

I have news for the academy. If they want to turn out solos (which isn’t a bad idea) they had better get over this idea that law schools are not lawyer-training schools. That is precisely what they should be — or they should be shut the hell down.

I’m trying to do my part, but I am only one professor. In my classes, I require students to do projects like (gasp) client advice letters. I also require my students to submit bills with each assignment. When I have pro-bono cases, I try and drag in as many students as I can to help out. In other words, I try and turn my classes into lawyer training, despite the fact that some would call this blasphemy.

When you learn how to be a doctor, you work on cadavers until you learn how to work on real people. When you learn to fly a plane, you spend some time in the simulator. If you want to be a lawyer, you still need to attend law school. Unfortunately, most of the legal academy doesn’t think it should stoop to actually teaching students how to be lawyers. Even if law schools wanted to, how could they? The majority of tenured law professors don’t know how to be lawyers either. With that kind of “training,” dumping hundreds of clueless solos on the market will result in: 1) an avalanche of legal malpractice suits; 2) a hailstorm of unethical and unprofessional behavior by solos who lack the institutional mentors to teach them better; and, 3) a swarm of unsupportable litigation by desperate solos who are just trying to pay the rent.

Oh, but for $41,500, we’ll train you now.

One law school has reacted to the economic collapse by offering law students one more year of law school. Yes, for the bargain basement price of $41,500, and another year of your life, UCLA will actually teach students what they THOUGHT they were getting for the first three years of tuition payments — how to practice law.

In response to the changing employment situation for graduates of U.S. law schools, UCLA School of Law announced today that it is reopening its LL.M. program application process for the 2009-10 academic year, and will accept up to 20 additional students who are graduates of U.S. law schools, including deferred hires.

The newly admitted LL.M.s will have the option of participating in the new Transition to Practice program, which will focus on enhancing the practical skills and development of the new lawyer. The program will replicate significant parts of the learning that comes in the first year of practice, but in a controlled learning environment. (source)

An LLM to teach you how to practice? This is what the students should have been getting all along for the cost of their JD!

This new “program” at UCLA is an admission that law school is severely broken. Many people already say that law school is a year too long. I partially agree. It is a scam. You spend three years of your life and $120,000 to take law classes from people who, by and large, have no idea how to practice law. After those three years, you aren’t even prepared to take the BAR EXAM! You have to spend the next summer, and another couple thousand dollars, taking a bar preparation course. $120,000 and most law schools don’t even bother to teach you how to pass the bar (my school does have a bar prep course). Those that do are mocked by the “prestigious” end of the academy.

So now UCLA is going to let you pay for yet another year of school, after you’ve paid for your JD and your bar preparation course, to “replicate significant parts of the learning that comes in the first year of practice, but in a controlled learning environment.

Three questions:

1) Why the hell isn’t UCLA, and every other law school, already doing that for their students? This is the very thing that the academy has rejected for years… I guess if you’ll pay them for another year, they’ll lower themselves to such pedestrian pursuits.

2) I wonder who UCLA is going to get to teach in this LLM program. Their best professor, Eugene Volokh, didn’t even know about the plan. And, as much as I admire him (if I were President, he would be my first choice to fill a Supreme Court vacancy), I’m not sure how much practical experience even he has. If the LLM program is nothing more than a few more full-time, “I practiced for 13 months and then clerked for a judge and now I teach theory and write law review articles” types, I can’t see how it will be remotely useful.

3) What kind of an abject fool would actually pay to attend this program? Honestly, anyone with this LLM on their resume should be blackballed as someone too incompetent to be a lawyer in the first place.

Anyone with the poor judgment to pay an ADDITIONAL $41,500 to “replicate significant parts of the learning that comes in the first year of practice, but in a controlled learning environment” is a complete asshat, and I wouldn’t want them handling my parking tickets — let alone my valuable legal work. They will be paying $41,500 to get less experience and practical training than they could get for free from an unpaid internship in a law office.

What if they can’t find an internship? If you graduate with a JD and you can’t find someone to hire you FOR FREE, then the market has spoken. You should be doing something with your life, but practicing law is NOT it.

But, have no fear: I have an alternative!

Announcing the “Practical LLM Program in First Amendment, Intellectual Property, and Internet Law”

If you are a prospective UCLA LLM student, send me a copy of your resume and a cover letter. I only require that you delete any reference to which law school you attended from your resume, because I don’t think that alma mater means jack. I’m not impressed by my own, and I’m certainly not going to be impressed by yours.

If you are accepted to the program, I will let you work in my office as an associate attorney (you’ll need to pass the Florida or Massachusetts bar first). I’ll teach you how to practice law in a REAL learning environment (none of this “controlled” bullshit). I’ll not only teach you how to actually draft pleadings, do real legal research, actually litigate and/or do transactional work, but I’ll also teach you how to talk to a client, develop clients, and how to practice with ethics so that you don’t develop a reputation for being a douchebag. Even better, I’ll have you work on a few pro-bono free speech cases that I might not have otherwise taken. At the end of the year, I guarantee you that you’ll be MUCH better prepared to practice law than any donkey who spent $41,500 at UCLA, AND you’ll have one year’s worth of experience on your resume. Plus, I can assure you that you will work on at least one really fun free speech case.

If you are selected, tuition for this program is $20,750 (half UCLA’s tuition). For that price, you will get your own office, your name on the door, and all of your overhead covered. You will be expected to generate at least $80,000 in collections — as the overhead for a new attorney is about $100,000.

If you don’t have the money up front, never fear. I can put you on a payment program, and I’ll let you work a flexible schedule so that you can have another part time paying job. However, you’ll need a sizable portion up front, and if you are late on your payments, you’ll be expelled.

After six months, if you are showing a profit, you’ll start getting paid a salary based on your profitability. If you can demonstrate adequate progress, talent, ethics, sense of humor, financial success, and future promise during that year, I will guarantee you a job as as an associate for at least one more year once you finish the program. That year WILL be a paid gig. Your salary will be based on your performance during the “LLM program.”

Even better than that, if you show that you can make it rain (and I’ll teach you how to do that too), you very well may become a partner with me. You know how long that will take? As long as it takes you to prove to me that it will be more profitable to be your partner than to lose you.

Any takers? Operators are standing by.

Hat tip to TaxProf for the story on UCLA’s program.

Email this postBookmark and Share

Short Url:

Technorati :  , , ,

78 Responses to The Worthlessness of American Legal Education

  1. jfischer1975 says:

    Will there be any scholarships, grant money, or other financial aid available?

    Also: I noticed a typo above – “In fact, laypeople might not know that for those who aspire to teach in a law school, it it [sic] is considered to be a negative to have ‘too much’ practice experience.”

  2. mattcsanchez says:

    Sheesh, where was this program three months ago, Marc?

    [No offense intended to the amazing folks at Olive & Associates, with whom I am extremely excited to start work very soon.]

  3. Tars says:

    Seriously, professor: where was your program eight months ago? First amendment is infinitely more interesting than tax law (and probably less expensive considering my long distance learning expenses).

  4. I tried to make it rain once; but then the nice young pre-med student I was talking to (let’s just call her “Candi”) slipped on one of my dollars and I was not-so-politely asked to leave that particular establishment of dance . . .

  5. Kathleen Casey says:

    Gosh, Marc. All this just because most all of us never saw the inside of a courtroom until after we had our law licenses, notwithstanding that med schools would never in a zillion years let one of theirs into an ER or surgery or even general practice without doctor-training.

    It’s not as though lawyers get their hands on or in the bodies of sick or injured people and risk making them sicker, or killing them. After all. It’s not as though law schools are perpetrating a public menace! Are they?

    • Actually, I think they are perpetrating a public menace. Drawing in thousands of aspiring lawyers, ripping them off, and then dumping them on the market is a public menace.

      And, you need not see the inside of a courtroom during law school to have a clue. I’m not saying that. But, a med school wouldn’t graduate someone who never cut open a cadaver — a law school shouldn’t take money from anyone that they don’t a) prepare for the bar, and b) prepare for practice.

      • Kathleen Casey says:

        My public menace comment gets to what you are saying. I’m sarcastic, Marc. Everytime I open my mouth practically.
        The inside of a courtroom is the example to make a point.

        Though at least most of them are located near courts and law offices as Georgetown is near Judiciary Square so that at least if you wanted to see what the hell went on inside one and get a PT job with practitioners it wasn’t made harder for you by design. They stuck SUNY Buffalo out in the suburban gulag way in 1973 to inflict certain aspirations on us. Every year UB wants $$ from me — to perpetuate a public menace, see — and get not one dime from me. They can take a hike.

      • exlawyer now doctor says:

        Besides for cadavers (which is in the first year), med students actually do 80 hr a week rotations where they train the basics with residents and attendings. Furthermore, after medical school, residents train for 80 hours per week for a minimum of 3 years (5+ for surgical specialties).

        The legal profession cannot touch medicine in rigor and depth of training.

  6. Lazlo says:

    Right On Brother! I must tell you that the law school I went to did have a lawyering skills practicum in the last semester which split the remaining students into 2 “firms” and we went head to head on civil and criminal “cases.” There was also a bit of training on client relationship issues such as billing, answering questions concisely and (what was probably the best piece of advice I ever got from a professor) actually returning their calls in a timely manner. Of course, this wasn’t some fancy ABA school… nah, I couldn’t get in to one of those because of my undergrad “history.” The fact that I was a porn editor and a long haired Harley rider at the time probably had nothing to do with it…
    I went to evening classes at California Bar Assn approved school. (After I booked 3 of my 4 first year classes, I was contacted by an ABA school that “reconsidered” rejecting me, and offered me a spot on the condition I repeat my first year classes…at full price.)

    Its my understanding that ABA schools require their professors to be full time teachers. Here on the left coast, CBA schools actually allow their professors to be practicing lawyers. Pretty much all of mine were. With very few exceptions, my professors had real world experience in the subjects classes they were teaching. My Crim Pro prof was a criminal defense attorney. My Contracts prof had a transactional and litigation practice. Go figure…

    I also was fortunate enough to be on the moot court team, so I learned that writing an effective appellate brief is far different from writing a law school exam (something else they don’t seem to teach at most law schools).

    The practicum had its flaws . I particularly remember that “?!” feeling I had standing at the clerk’s office window trying to file my very first lawsuit when she asked for the “Civil Case Cover Sheet.” She might have well have been asking for a left handed smoke shifter. But I feel I was better prepared to hang out my shingle after going to the University of La Verne (and Shirley) than had I gone to Yale. Of course, I’m not working for a blue-blood wall street firm, but things aren’t all that bad as a solo…
    BTW, nice plan on snagging a qualified intern/associate. I just might have to try that one out myself.
    See you in Vancouver?

  7. Yes, you will see me in Vancouver.

    And your story is one that I frequently tell people when they are squawking about “prestige” in their law school choice. Frankly, I don’t think I know a better litigator than you. And you’re right… Yale would likely have sapped your abilities, not honed them.

  8. The legal education is about 10 times more toxic than realized. It is a form of cult indoctrination into anti-scientific, supernatural doctrines. Modern intelligent students come to believe minds can be read, the future of rare accidents foreseen; 12 strangers can detect the truth by using their gut feelings, after all with knowledge have been excluded. The real meaning of the word, reasonable, is covered up. It means, in accordance with the New Testament. This is knowledge from 10th Grade World History and Western Civ 101 covering Scholasticism.

    They cover up the human experimentation nature of all law making. They cover up the failure of every self-stated goal of every law subject. They cover up the symmetrical failure of the criminal law, Job One of government. It allows 23 million crimes a year and convicts a bunch of innocent people.

    They cover up the destruction of over $1 million in economic value every year the lawyer is kept alive. They cover up the pestilential over-abundance of the lawyer by 500,000.

    Shunning is a criminal cult method.


  9. Anon says:

    Isn’t it ironic that your favorite professor (Volokh) has no practice experience? Should UCLA fire him and hire a retired practitioner instead? Would that really make the students better off?

    • Of course not. I’m not suggesting that there is no place for theorists, nor that those without significant practice experience should be barred from the academy. In fact, the best law professor I ever had didn’t even have a JD (he had a Ph.D).

      I do think that those without real practice experience should be the exception, rather than the norm — as it is today.

      My indictment is of no particular professor, nor do I believe that theorists like Volokh have nothing to offer. But, I think you are looking at my position the wrong way. The question is not this: “Would Volokh’s students be better off if he were not teaching?” The question is this: “As magnificent as Volokh (or any other theorist) is, would he have been less of a professor had he become a professor after practicing for ten years?”

      If we want to use Volokh as an example, I think that anyone familiar with his work can say that the man would have been able to thrive as either a practitioner or a theorist, and anyone privileged enough to study under him should consider themselves to be fortunate. However, the *system* that created him is still broken.

  10. Portions of the analogy to medical training are incorrect. Medical school graduates should leave medical school prepared to learn to practice medicine, but they are no where near ready to practice 21st-century medicine on their own. It takes years of specialty training (i.e., residency) for them to become competent practitioners. During residency, med school postgraduates work up to 80 hrs/wk (it used to be much more), receive a decent living wage, and receive lots of practical experience undersupervision.
    As the father of a soon-to-enroll law student, I worry about whether my daughter will get her money’s worth. But after years of teaching postgraduate physicians and future attorneys, I realize that the aim of law school should be to leave her prepared to master all the practical skills she’ll need to be a good attorney over the next half-century.

  11. Jim Maule says:

    There are some of us on law school faculties who try to prepare students for the practice world. We’re in the minority. It’s been a long and often frustrating effort for someone like myself, who has been raising questions about the role of law schools for decades, especially as the hiring trend in schools that once favored the seasoned practitioner decided, instead, to emulate the top tier schools (which got by because their students pretty much had been smart enough to teach themselves). Why the change? The desire to earn points in the “reputation among other faculties” element of that blasted US News rankings nonsense. The thought seems to be that if a school looks more and more like Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, it will get votes. Not. Those at the head table will fight over seating but they’re not letting the “interlopers” join them. Decades later, aside from some occasional changes, schools remain in the same rankings neighborhoods. The price has been paid by students, who graduate in debt and with a diminishing demand for what they bring to the table. Students have told me that, outside of the clinic programs, I’m the only faculty member who used the word “client,” a response to my inquiries as to their consternation over assignments or in-class questions that asked them, “So what do you tell the client?” Take a look at MauledAgain (, where among the tax postings are more than a few “essays” on legal education, its flaws, and its future.

  12. I have to admit, your positions on legal education are somewhat accurate. Nevertheless, I think they are a wee bit over the edge. (But look who’s talking)

  13. Johnny says:

    You know, many current practitioners remember when this was the standard in several states (NJ, VT, ?). You passed the bar, but had to do a clerkship under a praeceptor. In NJ was two years.

  14. A constitutional Amendment should exclude anyone who has passed 1L from all benches, all legislative seats, and all responsible policy positions in the Executive.

    As the felon might be excluded, such a person is so toxic with Scholasticist Medieval garbage, so anti-competent, and so preoccupied by lawyer rent seeking that it is better to leave the position open.

    Judges should have attended judge school, since it is an occupation unrelated to lawyering. And lawyering skills disqualify the person from the bench. Primary teaching point in judge school? Obey the law, do not make the law in insurrection against the Constitution’s Article I Section 1.

    • Again, a bit extreme. But, I do like the thought provoking idea of having “judge school” separate from lawyer school. Neat.

      • Tsiroth says:

        I agree with this one. Attorneys are taught to be advocates, a role which is ill suited for an impartial trier of fact. Judge schools!

  15. What do you think of the very modest proposal to have college pre-law course requirements?

    1) Psychology for Law Students. Punishment is the sole tool of the law. It has technical aspects that judges do not know. Naturally, much of the law seeks to control psychopathology, and that would be included in the year long course.

    2) Philosophy of Science for Law Students. This is a big subject. However, Evidence, the law school subject, has almost no relation to “evidence,” the requirement for scientific conclusions. Those two should merge. Included would be exposure to the concepts of reliability of measurements, which means repeatability. Repeatability is the real meaning of justice. The students would be trained in its basic math.

    3) Western Civ 101 for Law Students. It would emphasize Aristotle and the High Middle Ages, especially St. Thomas of Aquinas. The aim would be to inoculate students against cult indoctrination. They would recognize the origin of the core supernatural doctrines, and start to challenge their church origins. These are unlawful in our secular nation. They would be told of the monk origins of the IRAC. They would start to protest these in class.

    4) Ethics for Law Students. Aside from the standard philosophy course, students would be introduced to the concept of lawmaking as human experimentation on a mass scale, and the care that requires. This is to medicalize the law profession. OK. Propose the ADA. Test in small jurisdictions. Measure the outcomes, including the unintended consequences, such as a bunch of businesses are gone, and employment for the disabled has disappeared. Reach a minimum of safety and effectiveness. Then propose the legislation.

    This human rights approach to law making ends judicial review, since the court has no resources for such clinical trials. Judicial review is unlawful, anyway, and insurrection against the Constitution. When lawyers make mistakes, they can be whoppers by their power. The Civil War after Dred Scott.

    Have a bunch of students arrive for day 1, of 1L, knowledgeable about the minimum requirements for human experimentation.

    • This idea I like VERY much, and I regret that I did not praise it when you first raised it. I would add one more course: WRITING. I’m shocked at how many lawyers are just piss-poor when it comes to writing clearly, concisely, and in language that the average person can understand.

      I don’t know if I fully agree with all the courses you suggest, but I don’t want to quibble about details. I think your core idea is very worthy of praise. Right now, we admit anyone with a BA, an LSAT score, a checkbook, and a pulse. I do think it would be a good idea for law schools to require some sort of pre-law curriculum. Mine would include your psychology and ethics courses for sure.

      • Writing is a good idea. Students should understand the nature and methods of specifically, authoritative writing. The LAW course is a life changing experience for many.

    • Ariella says:

      I don’t really like this idea. As someone who recently graduated from law school (2005), who practices full time in a small firm (~6 attorneys), and who now teaches Legal Research and Writing at a Top 20 school (not where I went), I think the problem with offering such courses at the college level is that students end up going directly from college to law school with no intervening work period. In my experience, the students who worked in between college and law school are: a) better writers and b) more equipped to handle and understand the rigors of a traditional law education.

      Another issue I have with this idea is that it could (probably would) encourage the idea that people with undergraduate liberal arts degrees should go to law school because there’s “nothing better to do,” or they “didn’t know what to do,” with their education. I think that is a terrible attitude, not to mention incorrect, and it encourages people who aren’t suited to the practice of law to become lawyers because they have no real direction post-college.

      I do think Marc’s ideas re: a practical legal education are terrific and true. I am the only real practitioner to whom my students are exposed in their entire first year. The rest of them are taught by legal theorists who have rarely, if ever, practiced. They don’t give answers that deal with ethical quandaries or that address the client’s needs first, but that’s what I encourage in my class.

      As for the writing, ugh. Even in my fairly selective school, the writing is terrible. The problem is, by the time we get to them to address their writing skills change is almost an impossibility. So we’re left trying to nudge them into thinking a different way or writing a different way. Then they get resentful of us telling them that their previously-lauded writing skills are subpar. It’s never a good situation.

      If you really want to change legal writing for the better, then law schools should have a writing diagnostic at the beginning of the year and group students according to their abilities.

      • As for the writing, ugh. Even in my fairly selective school, the writing is terrible. The problem is, by the time we get to them to address their writing skills change is almost an impossibility. So we’re left trying to nudge them into thinking a different way or writing a different way. Then they get resentful of us telling them that their previously-lauded writing skills are subpar. It’s never a good situation.

        If you really want to change legal writing for the better, then law schools should have a writing diagnostic at the beginning of the year and group students according to their abilities.


  16. Gideon says:

    Of course, the post that led to Papke’s silly response was this one. And in that I list everything I didn’t learn in law school, most of which are true.

  17. […] What would you think of a medical school that graduated “physicians” who’d never treated or diagnosed a living patient?  If you’re like me, not much. […]

  18. ohwilleke says:

    If it is any consolation, pedagogy in European legal education is by most reports, far worse than American legal education. The norm is to teach black letter law as manifest in easy cases to large classes in a dreary purely one directional lecture format, with high drop out rates and little or no professor accessibility or communication with students. Bar preparation courses, meanwhile, are even more important, relatively, there than they are in the U.S.

    European law professors are more important doctrinally in the practice of law (often more important than judges in the development of key legal concepts), but teaching is even less important to their hiring and promotion than it is in the U.S.

    • PraetoR says:

      Sorry, but Europe is far too diverse to put it into one box. I studied in Czech Republic and Austria (exchange program), two countries, which have similar legal roots (1620-1918 it was the same Habsburg Monarchy, same laws applied to both countries, some of which are still forcible) and yet I have very different experience. I would get also something totally different in my own country, where my school is the only one providing legal clinics (ý_University,_Faculty_of_Law) ). In Poland there may be more law schools with legal clinics than there are in the whole western Europe (save UK).

      CR has THREE YEARS apprenticeship requirement before you can enter bar exam; Slovenia two, don’t know about other countries. Imagine that.

  19. Anon says:

    Volokh clerked for two years and then became a law prof, so his practical experience is quite low, which is typical for con law profs. He has been an “Academic Affiliate” at Mayer Brown for the past few years on First Amendment issues.

  20. volokh fan says:

    To those participating in the bizarre, impromptu volokh love fest: even if volokh had ‘practiced’ for ten years, it wouldn’t have made him any better at teaching practical law. there are irovy tower lawyers who are just as ignorant of the real practice of law as irovy tower law professors are. john roberts might be able to brilliantly teach appellate arguments before the supreme court, but what the hell good is that going to do me when my clients are everyday people in and around town?

  21. […] The Worthlessness of American Legal Education « The Legal Satyricon: An impassioned take on how poorly law school prepares you to be a lawyer. Some great points in here that I agree with wholeheartedly. As an indictment of law school in general though, I’m not as much of a fan. I believe in the “law school as graduate school” mentality, so I don’t believe these shortcomings mean law school is as fundamentally broken as the author does (group blog, I can’t tell which one wrote it). […]

  22. Eric says:

    Legal education has always been a tough nut to crack. A conundrum results from the fact that the practice is half knowledge and half practice.

    The knowledge component of a particular area of law is difficult to acquire in private practice because of the depth of the law. Delving deeply into a new area is extremely time consuming, which is prohibitively expensive – both for clients and (because of the lost opportunity cost) for the practitioner. We deal with this by specializing, which requires larger and larger firms in order to achieve a “general practice.” So how do you acquire knowledge on the job – outside of your specialization?

    The practice component is almost impossible to acquire in law school for obvious reasons. The difficulty here is not knowing how to draft a brief or a motion (which practical classes can teach you in law school). The problem is: how to instruct in judgment. Holmes defined the role of a lawyer as being one who can, by applying trained legal judgment, predict the mind of a court. How do you teach that?

    All of this is to say that an overly academic law curriculum, followed by a period of apprenticeship should remain the gold standard. That being said, we, as a profession, should strive to have more input from the bar in advancing legal thought – and we should require our professors to at least be competent practitioners.

    While we are having the discussion, let me vent on another problem in the profession. Bifurcating the thinking side of the profession from the advocates has diminished the Bar as a whole. Legal academia, the self-appointed thought leaders and voice box of the profession, has descended into chaotic noise: Utopian professors on one side and contrarian professors on the other yelling at each other. Also, academia has replaced practitioner’s judgment with empiricism – which has made legal scholarship as abstract as economics. Unable to contend with the noise, the Bar has become mute. Those who are actually on the front lines of social and financial issues no longer participate in the public discourse. Worse, practicing lawyers no longer see themselves as officers of the court serving the public good. The profession’s low morale results from their relegation to the role of society’s “janitors” (to quote Michael Clayton). There needs to be a rapprochement between the profession’s brain and its hand.

  23. Disclaimer. I love the law. I enjoyed the legal education I had the way one enjoys the shower scene in Psycho. Every turn of the page sent a surprise, shocking, zinging chill down my spine. I discovered a hidden civilization of people who speak, think, and act as people did in 1250 AD. And …, and …, wait for it, and … they run the three branches of our government.

    I mean, what more could one ask for one’s tuition. Stunning and thrilling. So it is great just as it is.

    Here is a modest, non-disruptive change.

    Cut out 3L courses. Institute an internship during which one would do real lawyer work, under the supervision of a licensed practitioner. Some matter should be resolved before granting the JD. Let the hurried 3L negotiate a deal if he wants to graduate with everyone else.

    If the students ends the case with a 10 minute telephone call in September, reward with an immediate JD at the start of 3L, and give his prorated tuition back. If the 3L gets back, from the other side, all legal fees for the client, let the diploma read, With Distinction. If the student gets the legal fees back, and sets a precedent in a case of first impression, let it read With Highest Distinction. Speedy lawyering is at a confluence of interests with the client.

    Such diploma rankings will inform future clients, not a bookworm, a client problem solver of the first order, whatever the future specialty.

  24. volokh fan says:

    as a current 3L i’ll just add to the choir that this past academic year has been a waste. i was even in a clinic for a semester, and while that experience was challenging and rewarding the rest of this year has been more about waiting for the time to pass than learning anything useful. an extra year’s tuition and a year of my life just to satisfy the aba. let’s not forget their role in this racket.

  25. I agree generally with your premise. I remember when I was in law school, Texaco/Pennzoil was in the headlines in the times with all the contract and tort based claims, but we never mentioned the case once in class.

    At the same time, law school does teach analysis and writing. These skills are hard to come by in practice. I’ve practiced on my own for 20 years. I can figure out how to capably handle VERY simple matters a new practice area in about a day but it might take me a week to analyze a particular issue to put a new spin on it.

    Also, students complain and complain about no practical education, but they must take responsibility. As I’ve said before, when I worked at summer jobs, I insisted on going to court, sitting in on depos and seeing the whole case file so that I knew what a complaint looked like. If schools aren’t educating, then people have to take responsibility.

    • “At the same time, law school does teach analysis and writing.”

      Analysis, maybe.

      Writing? I have yet to see law school teach writing. LRW isn’t “writing.”

      • Sarah says:

        What does this mean: “Writing? I have yet to see a law school teach writing. LRW isn’t ‘writing.'”

        Do you mean that LRW teaches far more than ‘just’ writing, since students learn how to read precedent, synthesize legal rules from multiple sources, analyze a new set of facts culled from a realistic case file, identify plausible counterarguments, reduce the analysis to a short written memo, and orally present the results to a supervising attorney?

        Or did you mean to be patronizing of the LRW courses taught in law school?

        As you may have guessed, I teach LRW. In part, my motivation to teach LRW is rooted in the inadequate practical training in research and writing that I received from my Yale Law School education.

        • Well, I meant both.

          I do mean that a good LRW course teaches more than ‘just’ writing.

          However, I have yet to see an LRW course that actually ‘teaches writing.” And, frankly, how could it? LRW isn’t designed to teach ‘writing,’ it is really a whole different set of skills. I believe that the skills taught in LRW should only be given to students after they take and pass a “how to write” course.

          I didn’t guess that you teach LRW, but I’m warmed and delighted at your motivation for doing so. Obviously, you are part of the solution, and not part of the problem. Joy!

    • volokh fan says:

      you’re confusing points. if you don’t get the experience you need or want at work, it’s your fault. but isn’t choosing an expensive, aba accredited, well regarded (at least according to usnwr) law school enough? do i really have to pay $40k a year and harp on the administration to offer some meaningful courses?

  26. John says:

    As you point out, a recent U.S. law grad’s lack of practical experience is more controversial now that cushy on-the-job training is more scarce. Other countries (most of Latin America, for example) emphasize practical experience to a much greater extent during law school, and the result is that an average law grad has significant experience in a law firm and begins practicing at a higher level.

    However, this practical experience comes at a price. Even those law students who still have time to go to class (many work full days at their trainee jobs) spend precious little time studying the ideas behind the legal regimes under which they practice. A first-year Brazilian tax lawyer is just that: a technically sound lawyer who understands tax law to the extent it affects her client’s needs. This same lawyer probably cares very little about broader philisophical underpinnings of law (social justice, for example) that are extensively studied and hotly debated in U.S. law schools and that I believe fundamentally shape the mindset of U.S. attorneys.

    I don’t know which approach is better, although I agree that a client’s short-term preference is relatively clear. But compare the robust culture of pro bono practice in the U.S. with any other jurisdiction and I think you will find one example of how well-rounded U.S. attorneys contribute to a greater extent to the legal profession.

    Aren’t there inherently philosophical aspects to a profession that has a monopoly on legal representation? Surely practical skills have been neglected in law school, but there must be a “happy medium.”

    • I’m with you John. I agree that there is a place for legal philosophers in law school. Kind of like how there are people who get Ph.D degrees in anatomy, teach in med schools, but can’t see patients. The best law prof I EVER had was a Ph.D. in communications, but didn’t have a law degree.

      Of course we should have theorists, theory classes, and more of a broad view than just “how to write a complaint” classes.

      My long-winded point was that the academy strongly resists the practical skills training that new lawyers need, and that law firms have been paying for. Not that the theorists should all be run out on a rail. Maybe 3/4 of them, but not all of them.

  27. Kurt M. says:

    This alternative “Practical LLM Program” actually sounds really interesting and very promising.

    The only issue would be my living expenses. I have the cash for tuition, but I would need a loan for the living expenses, and since this is not an official program from a college, I think the normal finacial aid paths are closed.

    I may have to apply though. Seriously.

  28. TES says:

    I graduated in ’82, and have been complaining about this since my first summer job, in 1980. I was embarrassed at how worthless I was to my boss, someone who had come up through the old system of working for free for a preceptor before starting to practice. (He didn’t think that system was any good, either.) When I returned to school in the fall, as part of the Moot Court Board, I tried to get my advisor to use a real case for a Moot Court project – where there would be pleadings, discovery, testimony – or even let me work up a fictitious underlying case for the appellate exercise – and he would have none of it. Of course, I learned much more about practice from my work than I learned in law school. Another irony is that the professors at most schools not only lack experience at practicing law, they have no training or experience at teaching. One of my friends from law school (she was two years ahead of me) came to law school after being a teacher. After a period of practice, she came back to the law school as a professor, and eventually became a dean. I talked to her about this issue of unqualified professors, and while she was duty bound to defend the school, she was intellectually honest enough to agree that most professors couldn’t teach worth spit – and that her professional training as a teacher made her acutely aware of their shortcomings. Most of the students were bright enough to figure things out despite the professors. (By way of background, I had worked in sales for a year before going to law school, and was paying my way – well mostly, my folks did help out – so having to spend my own coin for what I thought was an inadequate education really got me steamed.) Anyway, I thing two major shifts must take place – law school curriculum needs to change, for one. I don’t mind the whole first year bit of reading cases and statutes to learn how to think like a lawyer, and I even think the Socratic method can be useful. But into the second year, and certainly the third (do we need a third?) students need to spend some time learning how to practice – representing clients. The second shift needs to be on the quality of teaching – as far as I know, there are absolutely no requirements to become a professor at most law schools – so maybe insisting on some training in the area of teaching could prove beneficial.
    As a final aside, my wife is associated with Drexel Law where they require students to work under lawyers as part of their education. My impression is that the students like it, and benefit from it.

  29. […] The Worthlessness of American Legal Education When I went to law school, it absolutely shocked me to learn how much the legal academy despises legal practitioners. […] […]

  30. […] is a mockery in practice and apparently it’s not only in the primary to high school level.  Universities seem to be missing some sense too.  Oh. Wait.  It’s cents they’re missing.  So in […]

  31. […] it since it’s such a rich topic of discussion right now. The Legal Satyricon posted about the Worthlessness of American Legal Education. The post went up on the occasion of UCLA’s new LL.M. program for recent graduates that are […]

  32. […] There’s a great deal of criticism lately as to whether law schools should provide an education that better prepares students for practice.  The Legal Satyricon says: […]

  33. JakeCanada says:

    I agree with the general tenor of what your saying. Isn’t part of the problem that law schools fulfil to many roles. Not only are they supposed to train lawyers, but they are kind of think tanks, which are designed to push public policy in certain directions. I’m thinking of various seminars and courses law schools offer that have nothing to do with 99% of what lawyers do in private practice. Like one of my favourite examples, a course on the legal rights of animals.

    I think the whole problem originates because law schools are not intended to educate lawyers, but rather to act as another barrier to prevent people from entering the legal profession. In some countries, like South Korea for example there were no law schools. So the previous president of that country No Mu Young was able to became a human rights lawyer without ever going to university. He simply spent years studying to pass the exams.

    Of course you hit the other nail on the head law schools are first and foremost, like the rest of university, a business. Raise tuition as high as it will go, and if students can’t afford to pay simply give them credit. There is obviously collusion between the banking sector and the educational industry to make more money.

    The argument some law schools will make of course is “we prepare people for all sorts of careers, not just to become private sector lawyers”. In that case what you charge people should depend on what career path they choose.

    I don’t know a lot about the Australian legal system, but I do know you can simply take law as an undergraduate degree just like any other.

    As much as law school doesn’t prepare one for private practice I must say it does provide 100 times more useful information than almost any social science course.

  34. […] be worthless, law professors jam heads up asses in response I have written previously on the Worthlessness of American Legal Education. That ruffled a few feathers among legal academics who didn’t like being called a […]

  35. […] likes to post about the worthlessness of legal education yet never outright addresses the underlying reason it is worthless.  The reason is simple:  Legal […]

  36. […] few corporate specialists at law schools. And then there’s the trifling matter of the sneering disdain that many faculty at “elite” law schools apparently have for the notion of […]

  37. Dan Hull says:

    Bravo, Marc. Nicely done, and thanks. You’ll get a mention from us for sure. Based on the many students and grads our firm sees year in and out, we think that in recent years, one problem–or at least one of its symptoms–is that hardly any of the students and grads we encounter think that law practice will be that difficult, challenging or time-consuming. And they are surprised and even resentful to find it’s not a walk in the park. That “syndrome” is getting worse, even in the current recession. How did that happen?

  38. Jim Maule says:

    Students coming out of my courses know, because they’re told, that law practice is demanding of time, energy, and effort. Why? Because clients are demanding. Senior partners are demanding. Judges are demanding. And, I tell them, that’s why I’m demanding. Students in the clinical courses get a genuine welcome into the practice world reality, but there are only enough slots to accommodate a small fraction of the students (and first-year students aren’t eligible for clinical courses). There is much reluctance among law faculty who were students in the 60s and 70s to “alienate” or “offend” students by using tough, demanding teaching techniques, and faculty who were students in the 80s and 90s did not experience those techniques, thus thinking that the easy-going approach is the only approach. Fewer and fewer faculty have had law practice experience, going from law school to judicial clerkship to fellowship or think tank to law faculty, perhaps with a detour to pick up a Ph.D. Seasoned practitioners are told not to bother applying for law faculty positions. So how did it happen, Dan Hull? It’s a cultural problem that transcends law school. That’s another topic.

    • Seasoned practitioners are told not to bother applying for law faculty positions.

      Exactly. Therein lies a big chunk of the problem.

    • Dan Hull says:

      Jim–Just glad you’re teaching. We’ve enjoyed your writing since days we first started up the WAC? blog.

      And by and large law profs have been some of my favorite people. They include very close friends. A few who are friends have heard me complain about the recent grad “crop”. But they seem to be fighting their own battles with their employers–some good law schools–about what law school should be.

      I could care less about the approach–easy-going or not–taken in law school education. I would just like to see more motivated, engaged and more useful young lawyers. At this point, I am not sure we–i.e., our law firm–is paying many of these people to be lawyers when they are not even sure they want to be lawyers. If the law schools are not giving us that much, why not have the students and new grads pay our firm–yeah pay us–to train them? If firms are getting people with top grades from good schools who are at best 10% equipped to practice law, shouldn’t the students pay the firms to complete the job?

      Law school is now “PC”? I hadn’t heard that–but law practice is not PC–at least not at any place the least bit fun. Law practice is very contentious at levels where the work is really interesting. The tone is more Rahm Emanuel and John Wayne–not Mr. Rogers and Alan Alda. It is and should be dominated by type-A problem solvers who live to get things done.

      My problem with recent grads–we’ve written about it a lot–is not so much with the culture differences. It’s about money. The turnover in the last 5 years has been huge and expensive. We pay pretty well for good people.

      The turnover. It’s OUR failure, of course. But it affects everything we do–and especially clients. In short, we cannot get any younger employees in any position to put clients first. They don’t quite get that.

      Teach? Save perhaps me, everyone at our law firm likely has both the credentials and temperament to teach law at a good school. But we all really love practicing law. Personally, I think it’s a privilege to do any kind of work. I’ve done a bunch of things, even if some of it was during my students years. But I think it’s a real honor to practice law. It’s one of the few things I am always serious about.

  39. Marc, Just stared reading your blog and love it so far. I am aspiring to become a law student (tried last year, no dice on account of worthless LSAT score) and found your column to be neither comforting nor intimidating, but lines up with what I’ve heard from all of my professors, friends, and law mentors. It does make me laugh, however, as I think of My Cousin Vinny: “No, that’s not what they teach you. They teach you contracts, precedents, interpretations, and then the firm that hires you teaches the procedure.” Anywho, good stuff, thanks for any response. -Jeff

  40. […] education.  Marco & Co. do it regularly enough that I don’t have to.  (See here, here, and here.)  On the whole, my law school experience was a good one.  I took as much […]

  41. […] a post titled:  “The Worthlessness of American Legal Education,” First Amendment lawyer (and former law professor) Marc Randazza offered to provide recent law […]

  42. […] The episode has also helped spin off a second, tangential controversy taking the form of a new round in the ongoing dispute between some “practical” law bloggers and their counterparts in legal academia, on which see Greenfield and Marc John Randazza. […]

  43. Joe says:

    Law school is stupid. I practice real estate and bankruptcy. It makes me mad that I had to go through law school and the bar exam to practice. Most of what I learned to practice I learned on my own. Law schools keep raising tuition and providing a crap product. You think for the six figure tuition that they would throw in a bar exam prep course.

    Graduate of a top 15 law school

  44. […] Law School steps on its dick I often write about the worthlessness of legal education. Given that I attended Georgetown Law, it doesn’t take a 179 LSAT score to figure out that […]

  45. […] several years, this blog has been shrieking about the utter worthlessness of higher education — or at least that its purported benefits are oversold.  Finally, the mainstream media has […]

  46. […] I think that Dan and I might have come from the same litter. See The Worthlessness of Legal Education. […]

  47. […] is a very polite and professional way of saying what I have been saying since the inception of this blog — law professors are a bunch of worthless gasbags running a ponzi scheme, and most (not all) […]

  48. […] 37.) “The Worthlessness of American Legal Education” at The Legal Satyricon […]

  49. […] Prof Plus: This category is the bone that the ABA throws to the academic circle jerk. Most of the blogs in this category, if you waste a little time reading them, make you understand […]

  50. […] that might have the singular distinction of being described by both students and employers as leaving most of us woefully unprepared to do any actual work on our first day in the office. And the remedy for this is somehow to find a way to crowbar more […]

  51. […] this undercurrent has been building for years (see Randazza’s post from 2009), this represents one of its deeper treatments.  Moreover, it’s one of the few inquiries […]

%d bloggers like this: