If Only Kaplan Had a Law-Practice Prep Course

Speaking yet again about obtaining practical benefits from one’s education . . . What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering in yesterday’s New York Times is required reading for anyone interested in law school, the state of the legal profession, teaching or the economics of higher education. That it reiterates the message of my partner’s op-ed piece cited in the previous post is just good luck. Some highlights:

Regarding the “historic” deterioration in the job market for lawyers:

The legal services market has shrunk for three consecutive years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Altogether, the top 250 firms — which hired 27 percent of graduates from the top 50 law schools last year — have lost nearly 10,000 jobs since 2008, according to an April survey by The National Law Journal.

NB: The top 50 law schools–which I assume means those rated such by U.S. News and World Report–placed 27 percent of last year’s graduates in the 250 largest U.S. law firms. This group includes the highest salaries. Some number of the remaining 73% of graduates opted for judicial clerkships, public sector jobs, or positions with NGO’s. Let’s say those three categories accounted for another 33% of graduates. The high end of their salaries may overlap the low end of the first group’s, but this second group’s mean salaries would be materially lower than the first group’s.  That leaves 40% of graduates. Some practice with small firms, some start solo practices, some join family businesses, some cry into their coffee over their decision to go to law school.  I’ve defined the second group’s size arbitrarily. It may be 40%; it may be 20%. Not every school sends 27% of its graduates to the top 250 firms. The breakdown of how many graduates go where would differ significantly from the top 10 and the bottom 10 of these 50 schools. The salary range will differ materially from the top 25 to the bottom 25 of the 250 firms. Some solo practitioners will earn more than fellow graduates who take established salaried positions. In other words, my assumptions are just guesses. My point, though, is not how many to include in each group but the distinctively different employment market for each. If you need to earn $100,000 year to meet your financial needs then you better wind up in upper portion of that 27%. If you did not finish in the top 10%, or 25%, or 40% of your undergraduate class, why will law school be different?

“[A]lmost all the cachet in legal academia goes to professors who produce law review articles, which gobbles up huge amounts of time and tuition money. The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about — by design. One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day. If medical schools took the same approach, they’d be filled with professors who had never set foot in a hospital.”

Emphasis added. Editorial comment unnecessary. 

[T]here are few incentives for law professors to excel at teaching. It might earn them the admiration of students, but it won’t win them any professional goodies, like tenure, a higher salary, prestige or competing offers from better schools. For those, a professor must publish law review articles, the ticket to punch for any upwardly mobile scholar.

Amen, brother. This is not true only of law schools. My office whiteboard bears this quotation from a school administrator: “good teaching gets you nothing.” On a life scale it’s not nothing–you get the satisfaction of connecting with, inspiring, or changing the lives of specific students, thank you cards and Certificates of Appreciation, perhaps a box of Godiva chocolates–but institutionally you get nothing  more than a pat on the head and perhaps an extra bucket of oats.

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