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Friday, January 27, 2012

Bloomberg Law & David Segal on legal education.

(Disclaimer:  I'm working on some projects with Bloomberg Law, so I'm not the world's most impartial commenter.)

I watched Lee Pacchia's interview with David Segal (here), and I have a few preliminary thoughts:
  1. What I liked best:  the podcast illustrates one basic truth.  No one in a bubble ever thinks he's in a bubble.
  2. The distortion effect of the USNWR rankings isn't just observed by seeing how law schools reorder their priorities.  It's also seen when law schools fudge the USNWR numbers, which is precisely the wrong lesson to send to budding lawyers.
  3. If the law schools were doing a creditable job of disclosing their employment and bar passage stats, then I'd feel less bad about students going to places that have high tuition and low employment and bar passage rates.  I don't believe in coddling people who are thinking of becoming lawyers.  I do, however, believe that people need to have accurate and timely information in hand before they can make informed decisions. 
  4. The ABA Standards actually do have a lot to do with what freedom schools have to play with expenses. 
  5. After I stopped laughing at Mr. Segal's idea that someone really inexperienced could do a decent job on a consumer bankruptcy case, I decided that his example proved the problem.  Law is a complicated field.  If we don't want to put out mere scriveners, then we have to make sure that law graduates have a full range of skills that give them the ability to provide competent advice to clients.  We may disagree on what those skills are (but see our forthcoming book, Law Firm Job Survival Manual, which will give some good basic advice on necessary skills), but we can't just give people two years of black-letter law and assume that they'll be able to advise clients.
  6. I do believe that we should have teeth in whatever standards we apply.  If no school loses accreditation, even after several warnings, then the standards aren't that useful.
  7. Part of the problem is that we're assuming that all law schools have, or should have, the same mission, so we're not thinking hard enough about different models of legal education.
I'm about to accept an offer to publish one of my latest essays (Changing the Modal Law School:  Rethinking U.S. Legal Education in (Most) Schools), and I'll eventually put the final version up on SSRN once the piece is published.  The short version of my essay says that there really are three basic types of law schools.  A very few of them provide unparalleled networking opportunities for their faculty and alumni; a very few of them create the risk that their graduates won't be able to become lawyers (and pay back those nondischargeable loans); and most of them (the "modal" schools) provide quite a nice legal education.  Pretending that these three types of schools are at all alike is what gets us into trouble.

All in all, though, the Bloomberg Law interview with David Segal is worth watching. 

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