Is the crisis in attorney hiring due to the failure of legal education?

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Harvard Law School Langdell Hall
Image by ZaNiaC via Flickr

Jordan Furlong at Slaw.ca suggests that the current trend of big firms paying associates not to work for them is indicative of a larger crisis, created by an educational system that doesn’t provide new lawyers with the skills they need:

[T]he profession is going to go through a crisis, one triggered by a growing buildup of law school graduates who can’t find work. Year after year, we’ll produce more new lawyers than the market will hire – the large firms won’t be taking on nearly as many, while legal talent demand overall will narrow to lawyers with proven skills and/or experience. And these masses of unemployed law graduates are going to make us face an ugly truth we’ve been avoiding for years: we’re doing a terrible job of training our future lawyers.

via The Canary In Our Coal Mine >> Slaw.

As a recent law graduate, I certainly feel that I would struggle at certain aspects of practising law at this stage of my career. Many of these weaknesses are very practical: managing clients, knowing what documents to submit to a court, conducting discovery, etc. Some of these are, quite frankly, left to paralegels even by the most experienced lawyers, a practice that may be efficient, but can lead to paralegals knowing more about the “actual” practicalities of law that lawyers!

Law school made me a better legal researcher, reader, writer and thinker. These are critical legal skills, but not the only ones. My time externing for a judge gave me more “real” experience, as did my summer internship. Clinics are similar in their practical skills training.

Perhaps we need to officially accept the need for an apprenticship-style program as part of the law school system? (Either within the 3-year program, or a required component before taking the bar.) This kind of on-the-job training is the best way to get the necessary skills to practice, and making it part of legal training would remove the dodge of getting clients to pay for turning raw lawyers into minimally-effictive ones.