The American Bar Association’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.1 reads:
Rule 1.1 Competence
A lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation.
And yet, every six months law schools churn out graduates, who receive the rubber-stamp of their state bars, that lack the legal knowledge, skill, and ability to prepare a reasonable representation.
Everyone that goes to law school, and works for a while as a lawyer, knows that law school does very little in terms of preparing you to actually practice law. Sure, law students read a lot of old cases and develop some basic legal analysis skills. But when it comes to practical practice knowledge, except perhaps for basic Trial Advocacy, Research and Writing, or Clinical instruction, most law schools simply aren’t in the business of developing market-ready lawyers.
Can they be? Should they be?
Two pioneering law professors, Brooklyn Law School’s Bradley Borden, and Maryland Law School’s Robert Rhee, think so. They have come up with an idea: The Law School Firm (LSF) (available for download from the Social Science Research Network).
I encourage you to download the paper. Here are some highlights:
- Law schools establish law firms that are separate and distinct from the law schools.
- The LSF would be a professionally-managed, revenue-generating, non-profit law firm.
- The LSF would hire several senior attorneys, each to manage a different practice group.
- Senior attorneys would be experienced with business-development and management skills, a public-service mentality, and commitment to the profession.
- The LSF would hire more experienced attorneys to work under the practice-group managers, service clients, participate in business development, and train ?resident? or ?provisional? attorneys.
The traditional passage from law school graduate to market-ready lawyer usually involves getting hired as an associate and working either in a quasi-mentorship, getting buried under documents without much instruction from above, or some form of baptism by fire.
However, with the growing glut of new lawyers and poor economic environment, getting “picked-up” to begin training to become a real lawyer is more and more difficult. Which has resulted in some law school graduates, albeit licensed to practice law school graduates, practicing law before they’ve had the opportunity to evolve into market-ready lawyers.
Could the law firm school work to solve this problem? Perhaps. It seems to work in medicine with teaching hospitals. But what is the end result? To me, it seems that we will just have more prepared unemployed lawyers. Sure, some of those with an entrepreneurial spirit may be better equipped to forge ahead and hang out their own shingle. But many others, while armed with more practical practice knowledge, will still have to flip burgers (not that there is anything wrong with flipping burgers, just that it doesn’t require a law degree).
Furthermore, do law schools have enough incentive for making this change. The profs. suggest that this could be a new source of revenue for schools and a value add that could boost a schools U.S. News ranking. I suppose this will primarily depend on the quality and cost of legal services delivered by the LFS.
Nonetheless, I agree with the professors when they write:
Law school education and law practice are more disconnected than they should be. It is unfortunate that the legal academy cannot match the medical and business academies in providing practice-ready professionals.
Maybe someday we will see HLS amend its motto to Veritas et Paratus.