It’s better, but it’s still not really good. What I’m talking about is the situation of law schools.
In a recent article in the American Bar Association Journal titled “Why Law Schools Need to Teach More Than the Law to Thrive (or Survive),” Chad Asarch and Phil Weiser write that law schools need to reinvent themselves. The authors find fault with the current practice of merely teaching students the details of law and then testing them on that knowledge. That way of doing things, they argue, has become outdated.
They then go on to offer some useful suggestions for bringing about improvement. Among other things, these suggestions serve as a jumping-off point for more discussion about how to educate students who will succeed in the business of law.
The state of law schools
Asarch and Weiser note that law schools, despite having seen some recent increases in the number of applications they are receiving, are still hurting. And law firms are still hiring fewer new lawyers than they had been brining on in their heyday.
The focus of law schools: what it is and what it should be
The authors suggest that law schools need to do more to learn what abilities and knowledge are most prized in today’s workforce. The best way to do this, they contend, is to talk to as wide variety of employers as possible.
They note that law schools tend to seek advice only from large law firms, which value high GPAs. However, there are plenty of employers who value more than “the ability to do well on tests.” In fact, many have found that the ability to do well on tests in fact bears no relation to the likelihood that a particular person will be a good employee.
The authors, who are both affiliated to the University of Colorado Law School, developed courses that require more than learn-and-spit-back testing. Their priorities include “experiences with real-world situations” and working in teams to learn from others. They emphasize that collaboration helps students make the most of themselves.
Asarch and Weiser learned that students who happened to receive high grades in the usual sorts of classes nonetheless tend to not do well working with others. This inability can often “prove detrimental” in real-world negotiations and situations. The authors argue that law schools ought to use their findings to re-evaluate what they teach.
The business of law: personal characteristics
The article highlights an important point that is often overlooked in discussions about the education of lawyers: Law is, at its core, a business, and students need to be prepared to enter this world of business with both the legal skill and personal characteristics that will help them succeed.
Collaboration and peer evaluation are important to business. When they become attorneys, law students will need to know how to work with clients and colleagues toward a common end, how to negotiate effectively, and how to be the type of person with whom others want to work.
In addition to personal characteristics, it is important for law schools to teach subjects that will help someone succeed in business. For lawyers to do this, they must be familiar with business plans, insurance, the pricing of legal services, collections, cash flow forms and similar things.
Law schools should take note: Innovation is essential in any attempt to foster lawyers who will find success in the business of law.