Lisa van der Pool, “Report: Law school should be more like medical school,” in Boston Business Journal.
van der Pool is given the task of reporting on what the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Task Force on Law Schools, consisting of 14 lawyers, thinks needs to be done about “Law, the Economy and Underemployment.” Task force co-chair Eric Parker of Parker-Scheer LLP tells her:
“In Massachusetts, we are a relatively small state that has nine law schools. When you start to realize the sheer number of lawyers who are flooding into the job market … you say something’s got to change.”
So naturally the Task Force recommended Massachusetts’ universities draw straws and shut down all but two law schools, including the newly ABA-accredited UMass School of Law, and, sadly, the renegade Massachusetts School of Law. Right?
To identify the causes of legal underemployment, the report examines the medical and dental school models, which focus on practical training, something that law schools have increasingly been accused of lacking during the past several years. In a tough economy, clients have increasingly refused to pay for inexperienced lawyers.
I mean, it’s not like law schools’ lack of practical training is a new problem. Presumably lawyers including those on the committee had similar legal educations as today’s new lawyers. They just benefitted from a less glutted market and less debt. Frankly, if clients (and really we’re talking about Biglaw corporate clients, not people looking for someone to represent them in traffic court) are satisfied with the services they get without inexperienced lawyers, it probably means they’re not necessary.
That said, deploying the word “economy” in its name, one would think the Task Force would come to the same conclusion that mere mortals do about what causes underemployment, which is lack of demand. Instead, after six months, the Task Force concludes that law schools need to change their curricula, which will cost more tuition. This “mal-training” argument is really just a generic structural unemployment one: We have the wrong lawyers for the right jobs; retrain them and scambloggers will go away. Except structural unemployment is a load of crap. If it were true, we would see Massachusetts’ lawyers’ wages rising to meet the high demand and experienced lawyers from other states would be moving there to take advantage of the high salaries and available work. Instead, there’s across-the-board lawyer unemployment, but that doesn’t discourage the Task Force.
“It’s no wonder that when physicians and dentists graduate, they’re ready to earn,” said Parker. “They have marketable skills that people want to pay for. By contrast we found that law graduates come out with a generic exposure to legal theory and lack the experience and practical training that converts into a marketable skill.”
It’s also no wonder that physicians and dentists also benefit from entering a profession that has a shortage of practitioners, whether it’s deliberately engineered or not. It follows that these two professions’ education models aren’t necessarily better either. New doctors may have practical experience, but they pay even more in tuition than lawyers do, and they sit out of the workforce for a minimum of eight years of formal training (gotta learn how those tyrosine kinases work I guess) while other countries train doctors at the undergraduate level. I think the anecdote of Ben Bernanke’s son’s $400,000 of medical school debt is quite telling.
It also occurs to that the mal-trained lawyer argument also contradicts the versatile juris doctor, but that’s not the Task Force’s problem.
The report concludes that the third year of law school should look different than it does now, with more emphasis on practical training: “The task force recommends that the MBA encourage Bay State law schools to reinvent the third year so as to provide greater opportunities for law students to gain practical legal experience and expand opportunities to hone their legal writing skills, beyond that offered through traditional first year legal writing programs,” the report reads.
…And after the reinvented third year, graduates will be just as underemployed as if they’d studied nothing but “Law and …” courses, not that I don’t like those, but supply does not create demand, unless you’re sitting on the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Task Force on Law Schools.