Should Law Schools Become Trade Schools?

There are numerous posts on Lawyerist about whether applying to law school is a good idea. The legal economy simply cannot provide jobs for the number of students graduating each year.

On top of the that, many schools provide students with little to no practical skills, making a solo career difficult, if not impossible, right after graduation.

Is it time for law schools to radically revamp their curricula and move to a trade school format?

Are the wrong professors teaching students?

One theory is that the problem lies with the professors—many of whom are academically brilliant, but may have modest practical experience. I am not convinced this is the source of the problem.

The reasoning and logic taught by professors, hopefully creating a strong ability to think critically, is extremely important. Sure, I hated archaic property cases, but I know that understanding the reasoning behind them helped develop my critical thinking skills. If you can understand the “logic” of those cases, you can dissect any case.

Have practicing attorneys teach practical classes

Law students need practical, skills-based classes. Some students will seek out that type of experience on their own, through a clerkship, an internship, etc. Many students, however, will not. At graduation, they may lack even the most basic lawyering skills.

For example, if you never interviewed a client during law school, how are you going to do it in real life? I know that the University of Minnesota is making changes to its curriculum to help students develop practical skills, as early as first year now.

If law schools adapt a curriculum that requires practical classes, have practicing attorneys teach the classes. They may not be teachers, but they can provide valuable insight into how real life differs from the classroom.

Making a massive switch to a trade-school system is a drastic solution to the problem. Incorporating more practical classes with good attorneys will go a long way toward helping students develop their skills as lawyers.


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  • Mike

    Law school is a trade school. It just pretends not to be, and in the process does its students/customers a disservice.

  • Susan Gainen

    Excellent points, not entirely persuasive. Why?

    For an increasing number of students during the past six years, law school is “random graduate school” and not the place they have chosen to go to become lawyers.

    How, then, do you create a satisfying trade school model? Purposefully introducing students to clients and their problems can be a wonderful introduction to small and solo practice, and to all of the public practices which require client interaction. What, then, do you say to the person who is interested in policy, legislation or (gasp) nothing?

    Do you admit only students who are bound and determined to practice law? My observation from 25 years of headhunting and career services is that:

    (a) 10% of students come with mathematical and moral certainty about what they will do and that half do something else;
    (b) 40% come with three minutes of persuasive conversation about what they want to do, but that they run out of information at the fourth minute; and
    (c) 50% come to law school because they are curious, because they are hiding out, because law school is “not medical school” or for a variety of circumstances unrelated to a legal career.

    I, myself, went to law school at 30 because I was tired of being a “grown-up” (paying a mortgage is not all the fun that it is cracked up to be) and because I knew instinctively that people would assume that I knew what being a lawyer was all about and that I was going to practice law.

    I am not persuaded that if you build a trade school, that they will come. Whether that is good idea or a bad one, is a conversation for another day.

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