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.”
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.
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