Can Clinical Education Make New Lawyers Useful?
If all lawyers need to succeed are smarts and a little experience, then clinics would seem to be the answer. The Clinical Legal Education Association agrees, unsurprisingly, and has petitioned the ABA to add 15 hours of practice-based instructions to the required law school curriculum.
At first, the push to train lawyers in practical skills makes sense. On reflection, what is it that makes us think a few hours of “practical skills instruction” every week is going to turn new lawyers into useful lawyers?
Perhaps the most-important thing I learned after law school was that my smarts, talents, and hard work were not enough on their own to make me an effective lawyer. Nor were the legal writing, moot court, and criminal prosecution and defense clinics I took. Real law practice experience and reputation are impossible to pick up in law school. Yes, clinical instruction is a kind of practical experience, but it is certainly not enough, and definitely not all of the right kind.
Further, even if we assume law schools are competent to train law students to be competent as new lawyers, how can we be confident that law schools will train lawyers to work with the lawyers that hire them? Every lawyer and practice and firm are different, and many probably want to train their own associates. Maybe that is why the ABA Journal observes that “law firms may not be as gung-ho about practice-readiness as they claim”. Which brings me back to a question I asked before: Why would law schools be any good at teaching law practice management?. Or real law-practice skills, for that matter?
Pretty much everyone — me included — thinks new lawyers are ill-equipped to practice law effectively. Many people also believe law school is part of the problem. Why, then, would the solution be to double-down on law schools by requiring them to teach practical skills when they have demonstrated no ability to do so effectively?
Maybe law schools don’t need to change; maybe we just need to reduce the role law schools play in legal education.