“Legal education and the heir of Slytherin”

November 17th, 2011

From the brilliant Dean Jim Chen at Louisville, a post at MoneyLaw:

Excessive emphasis on pedigree over performance has pushed the legal profession to a point of reckoning. Hourly billing, at hundreds of dollars per hour and without regard to actual value delivered, is a barbarous relic that contemporary clients, sensitive to their own economic survival, have rightfully begun to reject. Law schools can no longer indulge the conventional assumption that they can focus entirely on training their students to “think like lawyers,” without attention to concrete skills or the pragmatic nuances of actual practice. Every instance of mismatch between paper credentials and actual performance on the job signals incompleteness or even outright inaccuracy in the elite model of legal education and BigLaw recruitment. Every BigLaw hire that flames out after two unproductive years should prompt honest recognition of the limits of elite credentials. Honesty about the limits of the existing model of legal education should prompt all law schools to ensure their students a true return on their educational investment, to prepare all students not just to ace an exam or “book” a subject, but to be as fully prepared to serve clients and deliver results as a lawyer can be upon passing the bar exam.

This is not a jeremiad against legal education and elite law firms. All models of legal practice, in firms large and small, in government as in education and in philanthropy, deliver value to clients and to society at large. I believe wholeheartedly in the transformative power of legal education, motivated by a passion for teaching and informed by serious scholarship. For me to believe otherwise would force me to declare my own life an evil, bankrupt waste, and I emphatically believe that I have not lived in vain.