Friday, October 19, 2012

Shuffling deck chairs

NYU has become the latest law school to announce a revamping of the third year.  Three quick observations:

(1) Doing an externship in Buenos Aires sounds fun, while spending a semester working for a DC agency sounds useful, but why exactly are NYU students supposed to pay $51,000 to NYU for the privilege of having the school outsource its educational function to various exotic outposts?  When I spoke at Stanford last spring several 3Ls expressed their aggravation trending toward outrage that they were being charged a massive sum to spend another nine months in technical residence, when in fact they were so busy with outside projects of various kinds -- some for academic credit, some not -- that their classroom experience was largely symbolic, if not wholly fictional.  (Note to the ABA: the more elite the school, the more your absurd rules requiring classroom attendance are flagrantly ignored).

(2)  Lots of law schools are obsessing on pedagogical reform at the moment because tweaking the curriculum is easy.  What's hard is creating an economic model of legal education that makes sense, given ongoing structural changes in the employment market for law school graduates.  Improving skills training and making law graduates more practice ready, assuming for the purposes of argument that law schools as currently constituted could even do this in a significant way, do nothing to create more jobs for lawyers. The focus on curricular reform is essentially an avoidance mechanism for dodging the hard issues.

(3)  Even a school as resource-rich as NYU will continue to sail into increasingly stormier seas if the BigLaw world keeps contracting.  In this regard see this Bloomberg Law interview with Bruce MacEwen, summarized here.

Update: Related thoughts from Scott Greenfield.

92 comments:

  1. Dean to law students: I'll put a Band aid on cancer.

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  2. Robert Anson HeinleinOctober 19, 2012 at 7:45 AM

    When in danger,
    Or in doubt,
    Run in cirles...
    Scream and shout.

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  3. The utter refusal by deans to recognize the fact that it's not a lack of being "practice ready", it's supply/demand. Yes, law schools are worthless at teaching you how to practice the day after you graduate, but they are pumping out twice as many grads as the economy can stomach, and 98% or so of the jobs that the half of the class get that are "legal" jobs are NOT paying their debts.

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  4. A focus on practice readiness allows administrators and professors to continue to avoid taking drastically needed paycuts and professors actually teaching a full load.

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  5. When I hire again I will just look at school and grades, so rearranging the deck-chairs is a good metaphor.

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    1. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 8:24 AM

      You should never hire again. You should simply volunteer your office for student externships.

      Delete
    2. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 9:44 AM

      Even better, after your externs graduate, the law school can pay them to work another year at your office. Just create a "nonprofit" wing.

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    3. Heh--I'm embarrassed to admit I have two interns (externs?) right now.
      The nonprofit idea is great.

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    4. Oh, free labor? You're not a piece of shit at all. No need to be embarrassed.

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    5. Yeah, seeing as how I'm responsible for the scam I should really do more to avoid consensual interactions.

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  6. First, NYU pushing these is externships and specializing during 3L is not some new revolutionary thing as it is being portrayed by NYU. It is what the bottom-tier schools have been doing for years.

    Second, pushing for more and more of these skills classes is a mistake. I'm a 3L and have taken some of these skills classes. A law student will learn more in a week at a law firm, maybe even if a day, than they will learn is an entire semester in law school. Some things are just better learned on the job.

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  7. @ 8:02 PM--agree 100%. Skills needed vary with the type of law, location, even the particular courtroom. Schools can have students rehearse being a lawyer in real life settings but it's not the same as actually doing the job. As you say, some things are learned only by doing them in real life.

    This is apart from the fact that making new JD's more "practice ready" is irrelevant to the main problem--there are too many JD's and not enough jobs. If new JD's are in fact more prepared all that might do is further displace more experienced lawyers so it is a zero sum game.

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    1. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 8:36 AM

      Completely agree with you and 8:02. Practical courses will not solve the jobs problem, though that's not to say that pedagogical reform is bad if there are things that need fixing (like the grading/exam system, imo). The problem, I think, with clinical courses is the point you make--skills vary by practice and location. Back when I was in school, I opted not to take clinics, because I realized they would not teach me skills relevant to my firm and I liked the traditional classes more.

      The key point is that at some point employers have to be responsible for training. It's win-win for employers, schools, and politicians to make schools responsible for more training. But schools can only teach general, widely applicable concepts--employers have to train in things specific to that job. Also, the more employers accept training responsibility, the less mismatch there will be between the degrees schools produce and employer demand.

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    2. It's all STB's fault. He said if President Obama wins again in November, he's moving his practice to Outer Mongolia and never again hiring another US law school grad.

      Unless said US law school grad is an Outer Mongolian with an LLM in Saudi Arabian International Torts Equivalency Rights.

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    3. In fairness, STB is just responding to Mitt's urging of employers to tell employees they are more likely to not have jobs if they vote Obama :)

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    4. Heh. Ok, I commit to hiring one associate if Mitt wins. But, given PNP's thoughts above, may not be at a high salary. Actually, it probably will be bc I'll be picky as to who I hire. So, $70K minimum.

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    5. I totally want to work for the guy whose firm has money to toss on signaling costs, assuming of course that small town is more like Park City than a cesspool. Where do I apply? I assume I should submit my resume in a binder?

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    6. Let's wait and see who wins . . .

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    7. "So, $70K minimum."

      8:53 AM here. Is that considered a high salary in your small town?

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    8. Not a high salary, no. But it *is* more than I would *have* to pay, given PNP's points above.

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    9. STB, thanks for the reply. I'm in my own version of a "small town world" and don't have a good idea of specifics outside of it. (But now I do recall, by the way, that we had at some time in the past discussed salary norms in the context at least of paralegals or highly competent legal secretaries.)

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    10. 8:53 AM. You should give yourself a screen name. It's hard to have conversations with you if you go by "anonymous."

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    11. (Sorry, just laziness I guess)October 19, 2012 at 2:34 PM

      ^^^^^ Yeah, sorry, I know, but it's one less click and no typing needed to just post as the default anonymous.

      Delete
  8. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 8:23 AM

    Another good post. It's also worth noting that the more outside agencies and nonprofits are provided with free student labor, the less they need to hire in the future.

    My proposal: Start 1L year in the summer, and have it be 3 semesters. Students work the summer, come back and interview. Students have 2 more semesters and then graduate. They then (hopefully) enter jobs. No more summer programs--you just start work. I think this could even be done under the current ABA rules.

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    1. "It's also worth noting that the more outside agencies and nonprofits are provided with free student labor, the less they need to hire in the future."

      Practicing attorney here. I think you vastly overestimate the usefulness of free student labor. Bringing on volunteer interns is done more as a service to the next generation - to help them get exposure to our area of litigation - than it is for their work product. The number of attorney hours that are needed (re: explanation, oversight, revision, etc.) to help law students to churn out even a halfway decent work product far exceed how long it would take the attorney him- or herself to create a better version of the work product in question.

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    2. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 1:47 PM

      Yeah, that's true.

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    3. But thats time you would need to spend on new hires anyway, 1:00 PM. Oh, but you get them to get your coffee for free....all's cool.

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  9. I see that Adam Smith Esq. blog spammed all over the place (along with the Kowalski blog) which makes me seriously question that guy as a source of information. That said, it's possible he ripped off the entire content for the interview from those Citigroup studies that are circulated to law firms so the content might be legit.

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    1. The guy runs JD Match. He knows what he's talking about. I listened to him at a lunch at HLS. He was very honest about the situation in BigLaw

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    2. I don't see how that's relevant to his knowledge about law firm economics which was the subject of the video. What he's saying might be true (and if so, likely he pulled that content from those Citigroup studies that get sent around), I just don't think he's a great source for that info.

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    3. Fat Guy, I am not 8:46 but may have scanned Macewan's "Adam Smith" blog occasionally over the years. He seems legit, and seems he does actually work consulting on law firm business model improvements etc.

      My 2 cents, etc.

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    4. (crap, bad editing - "I am not 8:46 but I have scanned". Sorry.)

      Delete
  10. Also, just to throw in more of my two cents, Simple Justice did a great post on this topic yesterday that's worth reading.

    http://blog.simplejustice.us/2012/10/18/nyu-law-school-third-year-profit.aspx

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    Replies
    1. Thanks. Greenfield writes a good blog. Did you see the April Fool's joke he pulled on the NYTimes (and others) this year?

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  11. I spent the bulk of my energies as a third year trying to find the job I couldn't secure in the previous two years and not altogether succeeding. Occasionally, I would have to come to campus for journal, but otherwise I'd show up to class (they still take attendance in Tier 2) and that was it.

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  12. That being said, as fundamentally flawed as the law school economic model is we shouldn't be blinded to the fact that "pedgagogy" in the law school contexts bears no meaningful resemblance to how most people have understood the term over the course of the past century.

    As my yoga instructor likes to say, "You can't learn what you're not taught."

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  13. There is absolutely NO REASON for law school to be more than 2 years. It's only 3 years so that: (1) schools can suck an extra year's worth of overpriced tuition out of their students, (2) those in the legal community can pretend they are part of a "learned" profession requiring "rigorous" schooling (akin to med school or Doctoral programs); and (3) the sadistic appetite of the legal community is satisfied insofar as proving that future attorneys went through the same mind-numbing bullshit (hazing) that they had to endure.

    The old adage is that during 3L year you are "bored to death." I wonder why? Perhaps because it's full of pointless electives, on completely contrived "subjects" which are offered simply to trick students into thinking they are "learning" and not wasting another year of their lives and $40,000-$50,000...

    1L is the only "necessary" year of required courses. Even 2L is a complete waste of time(although a 2 year program could be structured to make 2L relevant and useful).

    Legal academia is a complete joke. No peer-reviewed publications and way too many bullshit articles written by pompous, insecure no-nothings.

    The law is a TRADE/PROFESSION, it's not really academic. Attempts to make it seem otherwise are indicative of wishful thinking or arrogance.

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  14. How much of that $51k does NYU keep after paying the law school in Buenos Aires? I'd guess at least three quarters of it.

    These exchange programs are a fucking joke anyway. Although billed as an opportunity to expand one's horizons, they typically operate as little Anglo Disneylands, since most of the students aren't proficient in the language of the host country (unless it be, say, Australia) and therefore cannot take regular courses with the regular students. Also, students tend to do the minimum, as courses taken on exchange are graded on a pass/fail basis. At my school, it is an open secret that these programs are little more than hedonism dressed up as study.

    There's a class aspect as well. Not everyone can afford to go on exchange: those of us who work or have other major responsibilities typically cannot. Exchange thus tends to favor the young and wealthy.

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  15. 9:48 recognizes what "legal education" should entail.

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  16. My law school had an exchange program in the Netherlands, where, as you know, some of the most salient, most hot button, most relevant-to-practice issues in law are taking place today.

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  17. Hypothetical question: say you make law school 2 years, what happens to journals? (note: I ask this not out of any meaningful for concerns for the journals, and the ridiculously low barriers to publication they offer, but out of genuine curiosity).

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    1. 2Ls would still be staffers; law schools would hire their graduates in low-paid, one-year "fellowships" to edit the journals (and bump up their employment stats). Judges would still want law journal editors as clerks, so enough top students would suffer through the fellowships. Possible alternative: We would make the LLM students edit the journals.

      Sadly, I'm probably not joking.

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  18. How much of the 2L year is necessary, especially given the requirement for a bar exam and bar exam preparation that goes with the bar exam? The only useful courses I took during 2L year were evidence and community property.

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    1. Guess it depends on what you're going to do. I found these useful (there may be more but it was a while ago):

      evidence
      copyrights
      federal courts
      administrative law
      trademarks
      patents
      corporate law
      mergers/acquisitions
      federal tax

      3L was indeed a waste; I took only classes that fit my preferred schedule and from professors who had previously given me a good grade. Juve law, family law, geezer law, consumer protection, can't remember what all else, but nothing useful.

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    2. 12:02

      I'd like to see the following on a resumé that's tech focussed too:

      Securities law, UCC/Commercial, antitrust and trade regulation, substantive criminal (as opposed to crim-proc), economics (as in the sort of economics lawyers need to know in say antitrust, litigation, IP)

      Generally for the rest I'd like to see some international legal systems work - enough to know someone was not lost when it say comes to EU law or civil law systems, maybe some international trade (dumping, CVD, customs) and maybe a little international tax.

      Wills & Estates would be good, family law might be a good idea for general practitioners, employment law.

      So that would be my list ON TOP of yours:

      Securities law,
      UCC/Commercial
      antitrust and trade regulation
      substantive criminal
      Employment/Labor
      Substantive international (dumping, CVD, Customs, international tax)
      International legal systems
      Wills & Estates
      Family Law

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  19. One way of thinking about it, on quick reaction, is the division of law along tracks similar to MD's and PhD's. The legal equivalent of an MD can be a two year JD program, with the 2L year focused on clinical work, externship, or internships. The "PhD" (I'm sure there's some ad hoc latin acronym we could cobble together) track could actually be longer and more rigorous than simply a third year, and the journal detail could be folded into these programs. I would attach two strong caveats:

    1) the overwhelming majority of law schools (a significant number of whom should close) should
    not aspire to supporting a PhD-style program and . . .

    2) these programs would be very limited and highly selective. Essentially, make the "write-on" competition a condition for admission. We would lose about hundred or so journals in the process, but even that figure to me seems too little.

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    1. Legal education in the last few decades of the nineteenth century was bifurcated in precisely this way: some people took the vocational track, some the academic.

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    2. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 10:14 AM

      I actually think the legal profession has historically gotten it right in not requiring a PhD to teach. If you look at the PhD market in other fields, it's awful. PhD programs tend to expand, and in many fields they only qualify you to teach. Under the law model, the same degree that qualifies you to practice qualifies you to teach. This is better for aspiring academics because they can (hopefully) be employed in a decent job while waiting for an academic position. It also means that there is not an over-supply of people with just a teaching credential.

      I'm actually in favor of abolishing PhDs. Why not have a program where universities simply hire promising BAs into jobs that involve teaching or research, and they can get promoted as they advance. Note that grad students are generally already teaching and researching, so why not just give them a job instead? That way supply and demand stays matched.

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  20. I took all the "bar courses" 2L and 3L and not a single one of them told me anything useful for the bar exam. I relearned it just like I relearned everything else. The pedagogy is exactly the same, it's just the curve is different (or non-existant).

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    1. at NYU LS or another LS?

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  21. if grants and scholarships are not an issue, why not transfer to CUNY LS, where tuition is far lower at 6.9k?

    http://www.law.cuny.edu/admissions/tuition.html

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    1. not transfer; i meant "visiting law student"

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    2. Because a visiting law student pays the tuition charged by the student's degree-granting school.

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    3. @10:13

      "From everything I've seen, you have to pay tuition at your new school, and your degree granting school will not chip in at all."

      http://www.top-law-schools.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=80855

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  22. Every state would have one (or perhaps two depending on population) state-support "J.D." schools and as many private schools as the market can sustain (this fantasy would require the ABA actually getting serious about accredididation). Probably no state would be able (or should be able) to support a "PhD"-style program (let's call it an "LL.D"), with few exceptions (Michigan, UC, Washington, places where the state schools tend to outank their private equivalents). These programs could even be fully funded as they would only lead to academic or judicial work. That being said, the professariat of "J.D."-training law schools would come from matriculants of those schools, and not from LL.D. schools.

    All of this again, is coming from the assumption that there will be subsantially few law schools across the board, admitting few students, and for less cost.

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  23. 10:05am,

    CUNY is basically the closest thing to a non-accredited law school in the ABA. This is not a knock on their prestige, but on their mission. It's a strictly public interest focus with very few upper level courses after 1L. Anyone more familiar with the institution, please correct me if I'm wrong.

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  24. from a macro perspective, there are too many law school students for the number of good jobs available. no doubt about that.

    but a law school dean is not going to voluntarily shut down his law school so the other 199 or more law schools can do better. he is going to do what he can to make his students more employable. the change to law schools in the macro sense is going to be external - change in student loans, students wising up, etc.

    the deans are doing what they can to help THEIR students. maybe one will find the secret sauce to help his students at the expense of other deans' students.

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  25. @10:14am

    But that's not gonna happen. Too many deans are trying to maximize gains for too many students. The entire herd gets thinned out one way or the other.

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  26. I am a proponent of skills-training, although that alone is hardly sufficient to address the crisis.

    Contrary to received wisdom, I think that a skills-training approach would bring down tuition--if only because it would eliminate six-figure salaried law professors who would not know a courtroom from a faculty lounge, but who happily reach deep into the pockets of their students to subsidize their dilettantish studies in philosophy, theology, and hiphop.

    A skills-approach would also, if it works, give a freshly-minted lawyer the experience, contacts, and confidence to represent clients upon bar admission and so get some return on their law school investment. (When document review dries up, the median law grad's lifetime earnings as a practicing attorney will likely be $0).

    However, I am not impressed by what alleged trendsetters NYU and W&L are doing with their "practicums" and their third year menu of externships--it frankly looks like more scam. For instance, that NYU 3L's externship with a firm in Shanghai will make for an awesome admissions video, but will the firm allow the law student to help craft a client's private equity deal, or such? Not for all the tea in China.

    In my opinion, law school should be one year of general doctrine, writing, and even some liberal-artsy stuff to put it in context. The other two years would not be classroom-based at all-- just a structured series of apprenticeships in one particular practice area--criminal, family law, tax, whatever the student chooses. The law school's only function during these two years would be to coordinate these externships and ensure quality control.

    To address the concerns of those who think this approach would turn students into narrow legal technocrats (which is the objection frequently raised on the faculty blogs), I would provide this perk to law students: they would be allowed and encouraged to walk over to the other side of campus and audit any undergrad course or graduate seminar they want in the humanities or social science. The student can be trusted make his or her own intellectual connections between those courses and "the law."

    I believe that the lawyers who emerge from this process would be far more capable and far less indebted, and would be better situated to address unmet legal needs.

    Of course, even with the best curriculum reforms, we need to start shutting down law schools, a lot of them.

    dybbuk

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    1. Speaking of reducing faculty salaries... Is there any doubt that current law professor salaries could be cut in half and very few faculty would walk?

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    2. Of course they wouldn't walk. Where the hell else would they go?

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  27. But even the very nature of first year curriculum needs to change. That John Pieper can teach in nine weeks what most law students barely learn in three tells me that the entirety of 1L - in addition to upper level bar courses like CrimPro, Wills, and Evidence - can be taught in one year.

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    1. Law school is not—or should not be—just a bar-review course.

      Perhaps Cooley and Touro come close to being bar-review courses. If so, all the more reason to shut the toilets down.

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  28. Much more needs to bone than simply lopping off the third year of law school and restructing the second.

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  29. "be done", yikes! Not "bone". I realize this is a strictly PG-13 comment thread.

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    1. Yeah - stay outta my turf. I'm the only one lopping off bones around here.

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  30. here is a comment from the NYT article

    "Changing the curriculum for the third year of law school, whether for good or bad, does nothing to improve the employment prospects for recent law graduates."

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    1. if anything it only makes the situation worse, i.e., 2 years for law school. The reality is law school should be 4 years. That will reduce competition, make the barriers to entry greater, etc. Making it easier to graduate from law school is NOT the answer.

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    2. Raising barriers to entry for a shrinking job market is not going to help either.

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    3. Much needs to be done on many fronts. I'd start by greatly reducing admission, which would mean boarding up scores of law schools.

      Maybe there should be a clearinghouse for applications. Screen out the worst candidates, irrespective of Daddy's connections to this or that school, and pass on only the best applications. "Best" could be defined so as to promote certain social objectives, such as adequate representation of racialized people, people of modest class background, and non-traditional students.

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  31. 11:12's quote says it all. Legal employment is like trying to find water in the middle of a desert. If your trip there is by aircraft or by land, the result is the same...it's not there. The time has come to realize this rather than hallucinate an oasis exists and that finding it is based on your method of travel there.

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  32. Med school is 2 years of doctrinal training and 2 years of rotations where you actually get to help do the surgeries, deliver babies, etc. Med Schools do the rotations in 6-8 week blocks and a med student gets to do quite a few rotations. Most agree that 2 years is enough of the doctrinal work in law school too. So why not a year of rotations? I can see a family law rotation, an estate planning rotation, a criminal law rotation, a corporate law rotation, etc. At least then when a person graduates and does not go into BIGLAW, they are ready for something. Oh, and a rotation on law office practice management so they have a shot at making a buck.

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    1. The Law schools can't possibly do a rotation system because supply and demand do not match. Med school numbers are kept in check due to rotation and residency spots.
      The equivalent in law school= internship spots.
      If you limit the # of schools to fill only the # of internships available, you would have to close like 80% of all law schools.

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    2. Agreed. When the internship/practicing clinic spots are full, close the rest of the law schools.

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    3. Let's not forget that Medicaid provides larges subsidies for medical education.

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    4. because, you know, medical schools actually provide something that society values.

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    5. A recurring theme on the comments is the comparison between lawyers to doctors. Stop it. They are two different professions. This just reeks of stethoscope envy.

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  33. One could of course see this as an inverted version of special snowflake syndrome. At least a few law-schools, if not the majority have to see the "writing on the wall" - legal education capacity needs to fall by around 60%, which implies a lot of closing law schools and many others shrinking class sizes. Tuition in real terms also needs to fall to to somewhere around $20-30,0000 pa which implies a revenue fall of around 40-50% per student depending on the school.

    All of the law schools outside the T5 hope that if someone else "takes the bullet" they won't - i.e., they won't close and/or they won't have to shrink, or cut tuition. (The reality by the way is that even the T5 will if what seems likely to happen does come to pass will need to monetize their tuition in real terms.) What you are beginning to see is an effort to ensure that certain schools survive the great shakeout - long with a few who knowing they don't have a chance to "milk" as much out of the system before the shakeout happens.

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  34. Probably not PosnerOctober 19, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Don't worry unemployed lawyers--you can always start a "university:"

    http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2012/10/19/questions-about-faculty-list-new-university

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  35. From Greenfield's article: "It seems that $51,150 could bring an awful lot of fun travel with some pocket change to spare if these students just took the year off and did the grand tour on their own."

    Essentially this is what a few of my classmates did. Taxpayer subsidized vacations to South America and Europe. A few people I know spent most of 3L playing online poker or, when the government shut that down, trading forex. A few worked full-time jobs.

    Unlike 1L, where you are busting ass to get a biglaw job, or 2L where you are scared of the GPA drop because of that anecdote of the person who got no-offered because of a .1 drop during 2L, there really isn't any motivator during 3L for most people. Even dedicated PI folks will interview for fellowships during first semester 3L year.

    Law firms don't care what you learn 2L and 3L. If they cared, they wouldn't hire after 1L year.

    Of course the response from legal academia is predictable. They'll articulate some questionable, vague "value" (probably something like the third year expands upon the mental processes learned in the first and second year) with no consideration of the costs of that year or potential alternatives.

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    1. or emphasize ethics. LOL

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  36. More delusion, delusion, delusion by NYU. They need to sharply cut class size. Some of their honors grads with really good resumes are in termporary work. It stinks, and it is because of the oversupply of lawyers that they are ignoring in this good for nothing revamping.

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  37. New law school classes should drop to 12,000 students or so to make a real dent in the grads from past years who are unemployed. The oversupply would take a long time to work off, but would not be getting worse if year if that type of cut were made.

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  38. If you make a lateral job move, they will look at 3L grades.

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  39. Of course, if you are a special snowflake, you will make partner at your first job and never move at all. You will retire at age 85.

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  40. It could always be worse...from my law school's student newspaper (August 9, 1981)

    "Based on the proposed 18.1% tuition
    ceiling increase, law students will pay
    up to $176 per semester hour next fall.
    This 18.1% increase, viewed with last year's
    23%, is excessive. From a student's perspective, this trend is alarming.
    Do rising costs call for an 18.1% increase?
    And if so, what benefits will the
    students receive in exchange?"

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  41. I doubt biglaw hiring (500+ firms) will go below 3000 a year.

    It was 2500 in 2011 and 6000 in 2006.

    So NYU is fine.

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  42. client
    I like all details that you provide in your articles.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Shuufling deck chairs is shown her. Know all about it
    Bunker Beds

    ReplyDelete

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