While another judge weighs the merits of a suit claiming another New York law school deceived its enrollees into signing up by trumping up its post-grad employment statistics (NYLJ, August 23), Columbia Law has added three new academic centers, “focusing on international arbitration, constitutional law and global markets” (NYLJ, August 24).
What burgeoning legal scholar, after all, would not want to proclaim proudly they honed their skills at an Ivy program designed for the globetrotting arbitrator. Practically, however, a detailed knowledge of global markets, or how investors interact with the companies they hold stock in, offers little help in explaining to a client why they should always pay $500.00 when selling their home, rather than giving a buyer a property condition disclosure statement. (Answer: to help avoid inadvertently making a warranty that could surface as a huge liability later on, years after one has sold their home).
The basis of the law school suits is that post-2008 graduates expecting a six-figure legal job were sorely disappointed when they came out; the suits aim to blame the schools for misrepresenting their employment data. But this is the effect of a potent combination caused by a down economy and job-seekers armed with theory-based legal educations that focus on broad, sophist academic concepts, largely absent from the daily practice of law for most practicing attorneys.
At least one state has recognized this dissonance. Iowa’s new state bar plan of pairing solo practitioners with law students they can mentor in hopes they can find, literally, heirs at law, made nationwide news recently. The media angle depicted the program as a sort of expose on what happens to those who can’t land that dream big-firm job. They are put out to pasture, apparently, to spend their careers drafting tractor-sale contracts. I half expected to read about Iowa’s longstanding courtroom practice of making an objection by simply hitching one’s thumbs through one’s overalls and puffing twice on a corn-cob pipe; or asking, “Judge, may I John Deere this witness?”
But the truth is that even in the Big Apple, most lawyers are either solos or work at small firms. These “minor players” handle the majority of the cases that flow through the state’s courts. Preparing graduates to be actual practitioners—either by copying the Hawkeye state’s approach or by adding more practice-centric academic clinics—would be the wisest investment law schools could make.