In Part 1 we saluted the new blog Restoring Dignity To The Law and it's mission to restore dignity to the law. We discussed some ideas about how to restore dignity to law students - and we present more below.
4) Require People To Get Some Exposure To Law Before Going To Law School
4.1) Another interesting aspect to give students the opportunity to sample life at a law firm before practicing law would be to require that a person going to law school complete a certain number of hours at a law firm - say, maybe 500 hours of work at a law firm. For example, I don't think we would have an anti-trust implication if we just added the requirement that all potential law students must complete 500 hours work at a law firm prior to enrolling. However, even if there was an issue, I think that we would probably be clear if we linked the 500 hours to loan availability - that is, have your 500 hours before going to law school or no loans. Again, as you can see, this is an attempt to give students more knowledge so that they can make better decisions and not go into law.
Where are the law students going to get this work experience? Would law firms participate? I think most would, especially if the ABA were to issue something saying no firm could be conflicted out based on one of these pre-law students. Also, smaller firms might be glad for the low-cost labor (I would advocate paying the the pre-law students something nominal like $10/hour.) If participation is a problem, the state supreme courts could just toss it on as another requirement - many already require CLE and pro-bono. Maybe something like all law firms are required to provide an intership for each 10 lawyer-years of practice in the state. For example, a solo would have to offer one once every ten years - a 10-person law firm would have to offer one every year - and a 100-person law firm would have to offer 10/year.
Think 500 is too much? I could go shorter, but I want it to be enough for the students to take the blinders off - you tell me how long that would be.
Have the Supreme Courts (or the bar associations) of the state set up an exchange where lawyers can hire the interns. If it's run by the state bar, it's not likely that there will be any funny business.
5) Treat Law Students Better
5.1) The author of the Dignity blog mentions the down side of the Socratic Method and argues for its removal. I agree. I think that one reason it has stuck around so long it that it is psychologically gratifying to the professor - they get their jollies. In many cases it becomes less "do you know the law" and more "can you guess how I would interpret the law - and if you go another way, they you are wrong". The Socratic method is an incredibly inefficient teaching method - and frankly you deserve a better, more efficient teaching method for your $40K/year.
5.2) Professors should have more respect for their law students. For example, I don't like it when I hear law professors refer to their students as "those kids" - it's really not very respectful or dignified. In fact it seems to clearly infantilize the law students - which seems the polar opposite of dignity. How should professors teach students? Professors should treat their students as if the professor were an outside training consultant hired by a corporation to teach the corporation's new hires (the law students). In such a situation, the Professor would be motivated to treat students well and get good feedback because he would like to be hired again in the future. Further, it shows law students just how little you care about their dignity when you repeatedly subject them to a horrible, demeaning professor just because that professor publishes a lot. It clearly tells them that their dignity is worth less than a paper fewer than 100 people will likely ever read.
5.3) Add/increase the proportion of the US News ranking that is based on "dignity" or "student treatment". Law schools have fairly clearly shown that they care more about their ranking than their student experience - because the ranking gets them money. It's time to align the financial interest and include an expanded entry for student treatment in the US News ranking.
5.4) Better career services. Career services has been pretty bad for decades - I know mine was. But a lot of it is not their fault - they are usually set up to fail. For example, in an average class of 200 law students, there are going to be huge differences in what students want - and there will be huge differences in what various legal employers want to see. If a career services person gives good advice for a non-profit job seeker, it may not be good advice for a biglaw job seeker - and vice versa. Frankly, there are too many areas for the limited career services staff to keep up. Usually law schools have about 1 full time career services staff person per about 100 law students - that's far, far too few. Not to mention that many of the career services offices are run in a more "sedate" rather than "aggressive" manner - as befits the very low salaries that law schools usually pay for these positions - typically much less than professors. Also, the turnover is usually tremendous. When you have an understaffed office with people you pay very little, you will not be able to get good performance. The law schools just don't give Career Services the resources that it needs. Law schools have been able to reduce costs there, though, because placement has previously been so easy. However, it is incredibly undignified to take $40K/year from a person and not give them all the help that you can in the job search. Law schools - you CAN and SHOULD do BETTER. Spend the money to invest in your students. When a professor takes home $400K for writing papers and the top career services person takes home $80K, then it is clear to students what you value - and it is NOT their futures.
6) Teach Practical, Marketable Skills In Law School
6.1) Graduating someone with a JD degree who does not know how to perform services for clients for which he may be paid is insane, ridiculous, and - as some say with good cause - should be the basis of a cause of action for fraud against the law school. Law schools need to provide lawyers with skills they can use and sell to clients at graduation. Admittedly, this is difficult because the majority of law professors do not have such skills - many of them never practiced or practiced only a short while.
Frankly, law schools should follow the medical school model where the medical school is taught by practicing physicians. Can you imagine a medical school churning out doctors that are only taught the "theory" of medicine? That dares to say that its graduates can "learn surgery on the job"? That dares to say that their purpose is to teach their students "how to think like a doctor" - not learn practical skills?? Utter bull flop. Bovine scatology, as it were. Law schools should be taught by those actually working in the field - every class - from Day 1. Ivory tower academics with no legal experience should find something else to do - like go to work for a think-tank.
Well, those are they ways that I can think of to increase the dignity for law students. What do you think? I'll address some other ways to increase dignity for those later in their careers in later posts.