A recent New York Times article explores a fundamental gap in legal education–learning how to practice law. The article describes how most law school curricula offer little practical training on how to try cases or complete deals and focus instead on teaching students the abstract theory and arcane origins of the American legal system. This reality is fueled largely by the fact that for law schools and law professors, the primary purpose often is producing erudite legal scholarship rather than educating lawyers. In fact, practical experience in the profession can be a detriment to the job prospects of aspiring law professors.
The article goes on to describe how law firms are left with the burden of teaching newly-minted lawyers the practical skills that law schools don’t. And in a down economy where clients are watching every dollar on their bill, firms have to teach their lawyers how to practice without doing it on the client’s dime as they did traditionally.
The shortcomings of law school education, the insistence by clients on value for their dollar, the surplus of lawyers and the dearth of legal work to keep them gainfully employed. All of these factors and many more create a perfect storm that begs the legal profession to change its ways. And the legal profession is answering the call, though maybe more slowly than it should. Law firms are creating new ways to bridge the gap in legal education without passing the costs on to their clients, and law schools are beefing up their clinical programs and other similar courses to meet the need for practical education.
Will these efforts be enough or is a more radical shift in the way lawyers are educated called for? And who will be the solution to this problem–the law schools, the law firms, the lawyers themselves?