Legal Education and Law Firm Reality

I have a long held belief that the legal education served up in our law schools is neither necessary for the practice of law nor sufficient for true legal scholarship. I can’t for the life of me find one connection between the business and practice of law that requires the kind of training provided by our law schools. Law school graduates who are proficient writers tend to have been proficient before they attended law school. Bad writers tend not to be helped through law school but improve most upon arrival at their first job, under direct mentorship. It is only by direct mentorship that I have seen improvement. Critical thinkers tend to make good lawyers but law school can only take credit for what law students think about; not for their success of mental agility. I have seen dozens of “Ivy League” law school graduates who can’t find the winning argument in discovery. I have seen night law students cut right to the quick of the winning argument. I am convinced that the qualities of a good lawyer do not track at all with the law school or the education they are selling. It’s no secret, newbie lawyers are not let off the leash...

for years as they are “taught” how to be lawyers. The cost of the formal education is mouse nuts to the cost of their post-law-school education. So what’s the deal? Why are we not taking a long hard look at opening up the doors and letting a little fresh air into the profession. The “legal priesthood” is an outdated and in today’s commoditized legal market, a relic that is dooming many lawyers and consumers to very negative experiences.

http://www.calbar.ca.gov

Anemic programs in California, New York, Washington, Virginia, Vermont, Alaska, Maine and Wyoming each offer a little known way to become a lawyer through an apprenticeship. In my 20 years at this I have only met one person who came to the bar this way. My interactions with him made me realize that his “education” was more practical, and relevant to his chosen profession then most all the “traditional” lawyers that had crossed my path. Why are there not more? My guess is the “legal priesthood” does not consider it worthy of their time. Nothing could be further from the reality that is needed to rehabilitate the legal services profession.

The nations bar associations need to seriously grapple with the realities. We need to accept the direction of the market economy and supply the best services possible -- not lumber along with 80% disapproval and the well earned ubiquitous lawyer jokes.

Written By: Jonathan On January 3, 2016 02:00 PM

Jack -

First, if you are going to cite an article, one from this century would be nice. 1996 is a bit outdated, yes?

Second, go read my post about law school. Law school teaches you to think like a lawyer. There is benefit in that. If you want to learn how to run a business, go get your MBA. If you want to learn to be a lawyer, go to law school.

Finally, stop with the 80% disapproval rating. It has nothing to do with law school. It has to do with people getting services from lawyers who do not understand customer service and that is something that cannot be taught.

Written By: Jack Casey On January 3, 2016 05:39 PM

Jonathan,

Maybe so but that is what sparked me. There have been changes since 96 but at the same time the main points are still valid. I was raised in a lawyer house hold so the phrase “think like a lawyer” has been tattooed on my very DNA. And although I of course get your meaning, I also can help but to say stop thinking like a lawyer. Thinking like a lawyer is great on the days’ brief but not always the best for running a business. The skepticism of thinking like a lawyer, the risk aversion of thinking like a lawyer are great, for example when defending against or pursuing client’s rights. In running a business those traits are not at the top of the list I encourage.

Your advice to get an MBA if you want to run a business and a JD if you want to be a lawyer is exactly my point. Today’s system for delivery of legal service and the mindset it creates forces that reality. It’s a waste and unhelpful to improve the system. Let the business of law embrace those who are talented lawyers and bad business people. Why is that such a seditious concept?

Profitable businesses have a few things in common but most importantly they create a reproducible experience for the customer each and every time. Hyatt, McDonalds and Star Bucks would be clear examples. The “system” of delivery is the true engine of satisfaction for the customer. I understand you are not seeing the correlation between the general dissatisfaction in the market with legal services and the “system” of delivery, but it is a fact. I am shocked you say customer service can’t be taught. You need to have more faith in the legal profession. I don’t believe anyone gets up in the morning to do a bad job. A bad job is just a result of a mismatch of tools, experience and structure to the task assigned. A good system will align things and make sure that the mismatch occurs with less and less frequency.

Jack