Law schools are not preparing law students to practice law

The New York Times explains why law school may not be worth the money.


 The lesson today — the ins and outs of closing a deal — seems lifted from Corporate Lawyering 101.

“How do you get a merger done?” asks Scott B. Connolly, an attorney.

There is silence from three well-dressed people in their early 20s, sitting at a conference table in a downtown building here last month.

“What steps would you need to take to accomplish a merger?” Mr. Connolly prods.

After a pause, a participant gives it a shot: “You buy all the stock of one company. Is that what you need?”

“That’s a stock acquisition,” Mr. Connolly says. “The question is, when you close a merger, how does that deal get done?”

The answer — draft a certificate of merger and file it with the secretary of state — is part of a crash course in legal training. But the three people taking notes are not students. They are associates at a law firm called Drinker Biddle & Reath, hired to handle corporate transactions. And they have each spent three years and as much as $150,000 for a legal degree.

What they did not get, for all that time and money, was much practical training. Law schools have long emphasized the theoretical over the useful, with classes that are often overstuffed with antiquated distinctions, like the variety of property law in post-feudal England. Professors are rewarded for chin-stroking scholarship, like law review articles with titles like “A Future Foretold: Neo-Aristotelian Praise of Postmodern Legal Theory.”

So, for decades, clients have essentially underwritten the training of new lawyers, paying as much as $300 an hour for the time of associates learning on the job. But the downturn in the economy, and long-running efforts to rethink legal fees, have prompted more and more of those clients to send a simple message to law firms: Teach new hires on your own dime.

“The fundamental issue is that law schools are producing people who are not capable of being counselors,” says Jeffrey W. Carr, the general counsel of FMC Technologies, a Houston company that makes oil drilling equipment. “They are lawyers in the sense that they have law degrees, but they aren’t ready to be a provider of services.”

[…]Consider, for instance, Contracts, a first-year staple. It is one of many that originated in the Langdell era and endures today. In it, students will typically encounter such classics as Hadley v. Baxendale, an 1854 dispute about financial damages caused by the late delivery of a crankshaft to a British miller.

Here is what students will rarely encounter in Contracts: actual contracts, the sort that lawyers need to draft and file. Likewise, Criminal Procedure class is normally filled with case studies about common law crimes — like murder and theft — but hardly mentions plea bargaining, even though a vast majority of criminal cases are resolved by that method.

[…]“We should be teaching what is really going on in the legal system,” says Edward L. Rubin, a professor and former dean at the Vanderbilt Law School, “not what was going on in the 1870s, when much of the legal curriculum was put in place.”

This is one of the reasons why I give the advice I do about studying STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). Universities are politicized. They are run by people who want to push a secular leftist ideology. For such people, the more isolated you can be from feedback from the real world, the better. And that is why it is often (but not always) useless to study anything that isn’t STEM. If you’re going to the university at all, study STEM areas. That is, if your goal is to actually make money so you can support a family.

So you have two choices, in my view. Trade school/apprenticeship right out of high school. Or study STEM areas in university. That’s it.

A friend of mine who is a software engineer was thinking of doing an MBA a while back, and then decided on a Masters in securities and investing. I think that’s the right way to go. Stay as far away from anything that can be politicized as possible. Don’t give people who are embarked on perpetual adolescence any of your money (than they already get through taxpayer-funded research subsidies).

4 thoughts on “Law schools are not preparing law students to practice law”

  1. Hi WK. I always enjoy your very different perspective. I hear you on people needing to be STEM people. But I need help. I’m also a lawyer who had to learn on the job and I’m still learning! Infact to avoid practice, I went to work in the Non Profit sector. I wasnt a star science student but I got decent grades in Chemistry and Biology which I like to this day. Physics was a bit of a dread but NOT as much as Math. I would like to change careers to more scientific fields. Where would someone like me, 32 years old, single mother begin. I am relishing your insightful reply.


    1. See, I have complete respect for you as a lawyer. My first two job choices were 1) lawyer and 2) English teacher. So I am not just being a jerk when I criticize those, but the problem is entirely with how those fields are being taught, especially here in the USA. English is very political and Law is very impractical and political.

      So if you wanted to transfer to more of a stem career, my advice would be to find someone who is doing legal work in an area that uses chemistry and biology. That would be something like the petroleum industry or the pharmaceutical industry. Find a lawyer in that field and ask them to help you to direct your studies so that you can apply for a job there and get in and be useful. That’s what I would do!!!


    2. Have you considered patent law? I’m an attorney in private practice, and, although I don’t do intellectual property, isn’t a scientific background (bachelors or so many postsecondary credit hours, etc.) necessary for some species of patent practice?

      Just a thought.


  2. WK, Thanks for the personalised advice and direction. The petro and pharmaceutical industries pay lawyers very well and there are still areas that are open to exploration, in roads and influence rather than practice which is, yes, precedents from 1890- something more often than not, and difficult to overturn because for some strange reason precedent is precedent. This creates situations where the law lags behind and Dickens can call it an ass.
    I’m gonna explore the avenues you’ve directe me to and I hope to have feedback for you soon!


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