The NYT brings another David Segal story on legal education. Today’s sermon: law schools don’t teach “lawyering.”
Boiling away the overheated journalism, here’s the indictment: Law profs are richly paid for writing mostly useless law review articles rather than “the essential how-tos of daily practice.” Students study cases about contract law but not contracts. Clinics get second-class status. New lawyers need law firm training to figure out how to “draft a certificate of merger and file it with the secretary of state.” A law graduate isn’t “ready to be a provider of services.” Clients won’t pay for work by untrained associates. Legal education is not worth its high price.
Well, yes, law schools should pay more attention to the market for lawyers and offer more value. But as I’ve written in my article Practicing Theory, this doesn’t mean teaching what lawyers traditionally do. Lawyers now don’t draft agreements from scratch. There’s an app for that — software templates modified by user input. A technological tsunami is sweeping over legal services.
Practicing Theory suggests that law schools should teach law students how to be architects and designers rather than mechanics. The lawyers of the future will focus, more than today’s lawyers, on the building blocks of law. Computers and non-lawyers will handle the mechanical tasks. Training lawyers demands the sort of theoretical perspective that Segal disdains.
Law students also will need business skills that law schools don’t traditionally teach. Indeed, Segal himself notes that “graduates will need entrepreneurial skills, management ability and some expertise in landing clients” without considering the implications of this observation for legal education.
The real problem, as discussed in Practicing Theory, is not that law professors are teaching theory rather than the way to the courthouse, but that their choices of which theories to teach pay insufficient attention to the skills and knowledge today’s and tomorrow’s market demands. Segal’s article, like others in this series, ignores such nuance, preferring to string together well-worn criticisms and to eschew coherent analysis in favor of attention-getting quotes.
But, then, this is what journalists learn in journalism school. Just as law professors swing for the law reviews, so journalists swing for the Pulitzers. No wonder blogs are replacing the mainstream media as the source of cutting-edge information. If you want to know what is actually ailing the legal profession and the law professoriate, you would do much better to read, e.g., Bill Henderson, Dan Katz, Brian Leiter, Brian Tamanaha, Steve Bainbridge and me. It will save time and trees.