Legal education has been taking a beating recently. This month the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching issued a report criticizing the Socratic case method that dominates law-school teaching. According to the report, it does little to prepare lawyers to work with real clients or to resolve morally complex issues. Several months ago Harvard Law School announced a reform of its first-year curriculum to require classes in "problem solving," among other things. There appears to be an emerging consensus that although law schools may teach students how to "think like a lawyer," they don't really teach them how to be a lawyer.
It is hard not to agree. One of the biggest problems with the current state of legal education is its emphasis on books rather than people. By reading about the law rather than engaging in it, students end up with the misperception that lawyers spend most of their time debating the niceties of the Rule Against Perpetuities rather than sorting out the messy, somewhat anarchic version of the truth that judges and courts care about. When they graduate, young lawyers rarely know how to interview clients, advocate for their positions, negotiate a settlement or perform any number of other tasks that lawyers do every day. In short, they are woefully unprepared to be lawyers, despite the outrageous hourly fees charged for their services.
In the past five years, a critical group of associates in the Bay Area—the smartest and most ambitious ones—has announced that they will not take it anymore. Forget their kids: they refuse to follow in their own footsteps. Even as firms throw increasingly outrageous salaries at them, the elite is bailing on, or never even considering, the law firm life.
Natasha Sarkisian has much more to say about law firm life. (Thanks to Mark Beese for alerting me to the second article.)