Using the traditional five stages of grief framework, I believe that some law schools may be stuck in the bargaining phase, having skipped anger after resolving denial. While there are exciting pockets of innovations across law schools, most of the approximately 200 ABA-accredited law schools might be described as still in denial with respect to the changes needed to satisfy today’s legal consumer. Below are some ideas from my brainstorming with other professional within and outside the law.
Strike a New Balance with Practical v. Doctrinal
A couple of years back, my offer to create a 3L business of law course at my alma mater was turned down because the curriculum needed to remain traditional. The notion that third-year students need additional doctrinal study seems odd to me. Most graduates remaining in Arizona would likely work in small or mid-size firms or start their own practice. How can they not need a course covering technology, accounting, metrics, and other practical topics?
At a higher level, the business of law applies to all lawyers, regardless of firm size. Unfortunately, the stakes are higher for those attorneys going out on their own. To avoid firm failure, I am advocating that every 3L take at least a two-credit class in practice management. For those unable to offer these classes, law schools should consider providing offerings in collaboration with the university’s business school.
Look to Medical or Accounting Education
The idea of creating additional tiers of legal practitioners to improve access to justice is not a novel idea. However, I suggest that law school develop different options or paths. For example, instead of everyone graduating with a J.D. after three years, students can opt to study a specific practice area for just one year after 1L. These students would graduate with less than a J.D., and call it a “law diploma.” The scope of practice would be limited for these graduates, like a physician’s assistant or management accountant. As LL.M. credits count towards Ph.D. classes, these students would be able to return to upgrade to a full J.D. and take the bar exam. Later, if they decided to build upon their credits to become fully licensed attorneys, they can return for additional classes or challenge the bar exam.
One of my most rewarding experiences during 2L was completing the technology ventures clinic. The blend of classroom and real life experience was excellent training. I believe that all law school graduates should either be required to clerk, intern at a firm over a summer, or take a clinic. The notion that you can open your own law practice after passing the bar without having one hour of actual practice experience does not measure up to other professions like accounting or medicine.
Link Paraprofessional Programs to Law School Through Community College
Looking over the community college paralegal courses and Washington LLLT curriculum, there are courses that seem comparable to some of more practical seminars and offerings at the graduate level. Seeing others transfer community college credits to satisfy university requirements, I think that there should be some similar transfer towards the J.D. or new, two-year “law diploma” for a limited number of classes.
One size of attorney no longer fits all legal consumers’ needs. The goal should be to have various levels of legal professionals available to serve everyone. To that end, I believe law schools should embrace change and skip over any limbo or depression stages. Improving access to justice requires a broad and inclusive approach to law school reform to provide more affordable alternatives for citizens. If you are interested in learning more about Thomson Reuters’ future of law schools event, you can read David Curle’s piece here. You can reach me on Twitter @maryjuetten. #onwards.