Getting Schooled

In a recent NY Times blog post, Stanley Fish, author and professor of humanities and law at Florida International University, shared some advance insights on the soon-to-be-published Failing Law Schools, by Brian Tamanaha. In his forthcoming book, Tamanaha declares that the legal education system is failing students by focusing too much attention on rankings and ABA recommendations, and not enough on the actual education that law students are receiving as they enter the over-saturated legal field, trailing student loan debt behind them. In addition to graduates’ complaints that there are fewer legal jobs than they’d been led to believe were available, employers are complaining that law graduates are entering the work force sorely lacking in practical training.

However bleak this news, we prefer to view it as an opportunity. After all, if the system needs to be overhauled, who better to fix it than experienced lawyers with years in the profession, who will be the ones working with these newly-minted lawyers as they start their careers?

But how do we fix it? If most people agree that legal education is in trouble, what needs to change?

Well, how would things be different if law schools approached the process and goals of legal education from a place of generosity, recognizing that it’s not about them, but about their students? What if the barometer of a law school’s success was not how well they did in the rankings, but how successful their students are when they go out into the world? If law schools were to focus on producing professionals who have the foundation to be successful in the profession and let that reflect back on their institutions, the industry overall would be better for it.

Tamanaha suggests that differentiation is the key, and proposes more varied models like “[p]ractice-oriented schools … staffed by experienced lawyers.” Until a more sweeping change occurs, practicing attorneys can make an impact now by offering their experience and perspective in creating a dialogue with legal education institutions (how about starting with your alma mater?) and being a resource for them. Those working in law are the voice of the profession and know what it takes to be successful; thus they are the perfect people to inform and help give law students the tools they need. Of course law graduates are not expected to know everything it takes to be successful in practice on day one after graduation, but they certainly could start off better. If we create a continuum where law schools and current professionals are working together to start new graduates on the right track, everyone will benefit.

Do you agree? Do you have suggestions for ways to improve legal education? Share below.