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The Law Blogger is a law-related blog that informs and discusses current matters of legal interest to readers of The Oakland Press and to consumers of legal services in the community. We hope readers will  find it entertaining but also informative. The Law Blogger does not, however, impart legal advice, as only attorneys are licensed to provide legal counsel.
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Monday, November 21, 2011

Consumers of Legal Services Force Change in Law School Curriculum

Last Sunday's NYT had yet another above the fold, law school-related headline: What They Don't Teach Law Students: Lawyering.  In a sustained economic downturn, corporations (and individuals) that have reduced their legal budgets want lawyers with practical knowledge; not theoretical brilliance.

The academic template for law schools has been around, with very little change, since Harvard Law School branded the so-called "case method" in the late 19th Century.  This traditional legal pedagogy was memorialized in the 1973 movie, The Paper Chase.

The Socratic case method calls for students to read and break down cases that illustrate a particular, albeit ancient or esoteric, legal principle.  A law professor calls on students who must answer hard questions about the cases they have briefed.  The law students are forced to reason and think on their feet, like a lawyer in a courtroom.

The Socratic case method does not teach the student, however, how to handle contemporary problems faced by real-life clients in today's unforgiving marketplace.  Today, the cost-conscious consumer makes every effort to avoid the courtroom.

In our era of sustained economic downturn, the traditional law school model is under attack from two sides: there are very few legal jobs waiting for the legions of debt-burdened graduating law students; and clients generally do not want to see first or second year lawyers' time on their monthly invoices.

In response, many law schools have attempted practical innovations, introducing a "legal writing across the curriculum" component, and developing various legal clinics where students represent actual clients.  The effort has been to produce market-tested graduates.

Former Vanderbilt Law School Dean Edward Rubin has isolated the following areas where corporate clients are demanding better training from the academy:
  • A better understanding of modern litigation which now includes an e-discovery component, diligent fact gathering, and a settlement process designed to avoid court; 
  • Deeper knowledge of transactional law, including how to properly draft, evaluate and challenge a contract; 
  • How to perform basic corporate due diligence in the modern government regulatory context; 
  • Stronger legal writing skills (age-old complaint); and 
  • Getting a clue about the economics of a law practice.
Locally, both the Wayne State University Law School, and the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law (this blogger's alma mater) have robust legal writing programs and have been leaders in developing urban clinics which provide students with practical experience serving real clients.

Like any customer, law clients want excellent service for a reasonable fee.  Hiring a law firm that implements cutting edge, cost-sensitive technique is more important than ever in reducing a corporation's or an individual's legal bills.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, had no idea they had the power to alter the law school curriculum to this extent. Interesting story. Thanks for the information!

November 21, 2011 at 1:10 PM 

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