Friday, March 5, 2010

Informational Asymmetries, the Emperor's New Clothes and More Cries For Value

Early in 2009, we noted that the recession has exposed numerous deficiencies in the current legal education system. Accordingly, we argued for a systematic change in curriculum and focus. It appears that law students elsewhere are yearning for the same at their institutions. From The Daily Texan:
[C]riticisms [of the University of Texas Law School] are well-founded. In a survey of accredited law schools, Texas was the only school without a mandatory brief-writing course. In fact, only about half of first-year students surveyed reported being able to get into a brief-writing course. As a result, they will not be trained how to present arguments to a court — one of the most basic legal skills.

Instead of rectifying the problem by meeting national practical skills standards, UT Law instead chooses to steer law students away from taking practical courses by offering grossly grade-inflated first-year electives on such totally impractical topics as Race and Gender in the Constitution.

The first-year curve in all courses is set at 3.3; the average in these “electives” is a 3.8. A student in Race and Gender in the Constitution commented, “The class is a complete joke and a waste of time, but the professor gives almost everyone A’s.” Since law students’ employment is determined by their first-year GPA, creating such an exception to the curve is unfair to other students and misleading to employers relying on the veracity of student transcripts. . . .
So law students can game the system and come out Order of the Coif, while not knowing a single thing about the basic exceptions to the hearsay rule? I can vouch for the fact that this is an absolutely accurate characterization of the system as it is constituted both at my institution, and as the authors noted, at others.

But more pertinently, law school seems (oddly enough) to present a sort of transparent information asymmetry cogently illustrated by the student in this article: in many respects, law schools fail to meet the demands and expectations students have upon entering and that employers have when hiring. Yet, it seems like we all know a little bit of what we are getting at the outset; the sales pitch is just all too compelling. In this sense, law school is more like an experience good that shouldn't demand any sort of warranty. But the problems are still exceedingly pervasive. As the authors noted with respect to their institution:
[There is a] deeper problem at UT Law that has drawn criticism from all corners of the legal industry: Lax institutional standards have marginalized the law school’s role in society of preparing its students to be competent, ethical lawyers.
I hate to say it, but this problem is not confined to UT Law. We need major reforms soon, because permitting students to become engulfed in massive amounts of debt with little to no guidance on how to be competent lawyers will (inevitably, I think) continue to dilute the profession's quality, and worse yet, harm students' lives. Law students ought to be more vocal in their cries for change like the authors in the noted article.

21 comments:

  1. good idea, but i'm a cynic. Law schools make too much money off of dumb students, and the system is built to siphon money inefficiently. What's worse is that most of these funds are bankrolled by govenrment loans...

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  2. good article. I for one am one of those "engulfed" in debt, and I feel like I don't know a damn thing about practicing law (im a 3L too).

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  3. There are plenty of schools that teach real-world lawyering skills. Most service local markets. See e.g. MULS in Milwaukee. Unfortunately, these types of institutions are derided as being "second-tier" and not "TTT." I have practiced with straight A students from top institutions that can't write a coherent paragraph and don't even know what a complaint looks like. They would rather talk your ear off about "gender and the law" and "social justice" than write a contract. Yet, I've seen plenty of good "b-c" attorneys from smaller institutions run circles around BIGLAW types in the courtroom.

    The problem is since the 60s people have been enrolled into law schools sold on the idea of "changing society" and "making a difference." Law schools deliver what the students want.

    Unfortunately for them, law isn't about "social justice," "saving the world," etc.---its about helping Corp. A. acquire Corp. B, suing Corp. Q for violating Corp. x's patent, helping granny get her ss benefits, writing wills for your grandparents, and helping Jo down the street incorporate his coffee shop.

    Once law schools go back to teaching writing, research, procedure, codes, and practice and holding students accountable for having legal "skills" rather than a lot of hot air, things will get better.

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  4. From experience I know that what UT Law students lack is training in math, science and economics. Though if getting on SCOTUS is your goal, it's apparently best to be ignorant of those but well grounded in English, History, International Affairs and Government.

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  5. For the sake of argument, consider the fact that previous generations of law students went through a similar educational process, and became competent, successful, and effective lawyers. Hell, Rodge Cohen (who used to head up S&C's I-Banking practice) went to law school because it was the closest thing out there to generic humanities graduate school. He went for the high on intellectual reasoning, light on real world skills classes, and nobody would question his ability to practice law.

    I don't think anything has fundamentally changed in legal education since that time. So guess the point of this comment is: has something changed in the practice of law, or in the students who attend law schools, to make the education that served the lawyers of our parents generation so well inadequate for our generation?

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  6. This is really good idea, but i'm a cynic. Law schools make too much money off of dumb students, and the system is built to siphon money inefficiently. What's worse is that most of these funds are bankrolled by govenrment loans...


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  7. I think the difference is that law firms now expect lawyers who can do work soon after they start, whereas before, they were content to spend more time training lawyers. Billable hour expectations have increased, as has client scrutiny of those bills. These trends have limited training opportunities for new lawyers.

    Perhaps that's not a bad thing. Perhaps students who pay so much to attend law school should demand that they actually learn the law. After all, training seems more the responsibility of a law school students are paying for than it does an employer who is paying the students.

    Alot of the social reform, economics, and other substantive studies don't really belong in law school. It almost seems that law is the most boring part of law school. Professors are those who had excellent credentials but didn't want to practice. Practicing law is really more about the clerical and legal technicalities, not making the business or policy decisions that are behind the client's goals.

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  8. Northwestern has the same bogus curve, they "claim" its a 3.3 median, but in reality, its more like a 3.6 median.. ridiculous.

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  9. The Legal Writing Prof Blog has picked up the story but notes that this blog doesn't have a citation.(http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legalwriting/2010/03/u-of-texas-accused-of-failing-to-provide-1ls-with-adequate-training-in-brief-writing.html)

    The underlying Daily Texan story is here: http://www.dailytexanonline.com/opinion/law-students-need-a-practical-education-1.2179626

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  10. There are two links to the Daily Texan article: under the texts "yearning for the same" and "The Daily Texan."

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  12. I think the difference is that law firms now expect lawyers who can do work soon after they start
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  13. Why is not confined to UT Law? I agree That We Needed Reforms better soon, because we need students more competitive because they're professionals working in the near future, so law students must have the vocation to study this race for their efforts is optimal

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  16. There are two links to the Daily Texan article: under the texts "yearning for the same" and "The Daily Texan."

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