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Absolutely Wretched: One Profs Take on the State of Legal Ed.

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  • Absolutely Wretched: One Profs Take on the State of Legal Ed.

    A report out of Colorado on Wednesday provides even further evidence to support what we all know to be true: it’s a terrifically bad time to be in law school.

    According to this story in Colorado Law Week, only about 35 percent of the University of Colorado School of Law’s class of 2009 had jobs at graduation, down from 55 percent the year before. The law school at Denver University didn’t provide Law Week statistics, but Misae Nishkura, the assistant dean for the school’s Career Development Center, confirmed that “there are definitely fewer students who had a job lined up at graduation this year compared to last year.”

    Oh how we wish this trend were limited to Denver, or Colorado, or even the western half of the U.S. But it’s not. It’s a trend that’s playing out again and again at just about every law school in the country.

    So who’s to blame? Of course, one needn’t be a Nobel Prize winning economist — or even a loyal reader of this blog — to understand that the credit crunch and recession have much to do with the lack of lawyer demand around the country. That said, might the law schools themselves be to blame, at least in part?

    Yes, says Rick Bales, a law professor at the University of Northern Kentucky. Writing over at Prawfsblog, Bales says law schools have been “absolutely wretched” at responding to the shifting marketplace.

    Writes Bales:

    How good are law schools at responding to the legal marketplace?
    In one sense, we are absolutely wretched. As law firms this year have shed lawyers like a dog sheds hair in summer, law schools continue to admit the same – or more – students into their programs.
    . . .

    In other respects, law schools are merely bad at responding to the legal marketplace. How many schools, for example, for the spring 2009 semester, dropped some M&A course offerings and beefed up their bankruptcy offerings? How many schools have beefed up their public-sector offerings in response to the demand materializing now for lawyers who can help guide stimulus funds?

    Ask any law firm hiring partner whether law schools are doing a good job of educating lawyers and you are likely to get an earful. Neither law firm clients nor cash-strapped government employers are willing or able to subsidize lawyer training the way they were in the past. Legal employers want to hire graduates who can take a deposition or draft a merger agreement now. But law schools are not delivering. The law schools that figure out how to do so – while still teaching the doctrine necessary for bar passage and the critical-thinking skills necessary for solving complex legal problems – will find themselves at a substantial competitive advantage over other law schools.

    LBers, any thoughts? On the one hand, we hear what Bales is saying. It’s been a complaint of managing partners nearly since the dawn of time: young law grads come out of law school totally ill-equipped to practice. At the same time, we’re not sure that market-driven changes to the curriculum are the way to go. (How would a school know, for instance, when the time is right to scotch the bankruptcy clinic in favor of a real-estate transactions clinic?)
    Welcome to our discussion forum!
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