December 21, 2006

CBA Proposal Enables Elitist Law Schools

Connecticut Law Tribune - May 22, 2006, Rev. version April 10, 2007, National Law Journal April 10, 2007

Centuries ago, one became a lawyer by apprenticing with a practicing lawyer. By watching the lawyer in action, learning the law through research and practical application, learning the fundamentals of dealing with clients, they then flew from the nest and went on to practice themselves. But somewhere along the way, how to "practice" law has gotten lost in the corporation known as "law school" and now the Connecticut Bar Association believes they have to pick up the slack to make up for the law school’s shortcomings.

There are two primary components to becoming a lawyer; knowledge and application. One without the other is pointless. Today law schools emphasize knowledge only. Application is left to the employer if one manages to find a position upon graduation. When the application component is left to the employer, implicit in that is the assumption "one must work for another" first, in order to complete their legal education and before they can open up their own practice competently. If I’ve paid upwards of $100,000 for a legal education, I want it to be a complete legal education upon graduation. I don’t want to then be mandated to take an agency-sponsored, state sanctioned post-graduate prep course on lawyering or be suspended. Therefore, a good law school should teach both knowledge and application in a well-designed curriculum where both primary components of becoming a complete lawyer are regarded with equal value. Upon graduation and passing the bar, I should be good to go.

Unfortunately, for most of today’s law students this is not the norm. Students are paying a premium for the whole pie but getting only half. The pervasive attitude amongst academia is "that’s not our job. We are not technicians. We are academicians." And quite frankly, true academicians should not teach the reality of working in the trenches if they haven’t been there recently. Therefore, law schools should integrate into their professorial ranks those who are proud of their war wounds obtained in the real legal world. And they should have input into the curriculum as their real world experience plays an important role in the law student’s education. It’s what the students want. And, they are the paying customer. Without them, the law school ceases to exist.

Some laws schools are heeding the wake up call. Quinnipiac University School of Law is reading the tea leaves. Oklahoma’s law schools all have some offerings. Well established programs exist at Campbell University in North Carolina. Yet Campbell University stands alone in that they actually take pride in their legal business programs and celebrate their solo alumni. Deans who are progressive and are looking towards the future of the legal profession are realizing they have a greater obligation to their students. They understand there is a need to go back to the basics, to teach skills along with knowledge in order to go forward into the future. If one were to honestly contemplate the future of the legal profession they would have to acknowledge it mirrors the division of classes in our society. The mid-sized firm is disappearing and being absorbed into the mega firms or fracturing off into one to four "person" law firms. One to four "person" firms are home to almost 74% of all private practice lawyers in this country today. This mandates knowledge on how to operate your own legal practice. To preclude teaching students how to function as business people in the practice of law when this is the trend in the legal profession is tantamount to educational malpractice.

Education has to change with the times and legal educators need to acknowledge their paying customers. Law schools need to stop concentrating on "placing" their graduates in "jobs" and start helping them to build a career for themselves by equipping them for any eventuality or shift in economic trend. Give students their full education. Educate them in all the options their degree affords. Clinics, internships and externships should be mandatory, not optional. Schools should be establishing centers for solo and small firm practice, or at the very least providing information, guidance and support as standard fare. Give your students a leg up on what they can expect in the real world and let them say they were able to succeed because they got a complete education, the whole pie. If the CBA is allowed to construct this additional hoop for recent graduates to jump through, all it’s succeeded in giving all law schools is a free pass on providing students a complete legal education.

Susan Cartier-Liebel is solo practitioner, adjunct professor at Quinnipiac University School of Law and a business consultant for solo and small firms. She can be reached at SCartier_Liebel@comcast.net. Copyright © Susan Cartier-Liebel (2006) All Rights Reserved. No portion of this material may be copied, transmitted, posted, duplicated or otherwise used without the express written approval of Susan Cartier-Liebel.