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In the 40 years since I graduated from law school, the legal profession has changed dramatically; legal education has changed much less so. Except for the important addition of some skills and clinical programs, legal education is generally not purposeful or sufficiently integrated, and most law schools offer too little encouragement for students to have a practice-area focus throughout law school that culminates in a third year focused on a broad practice area. The result is law graduates who are generally ill-equipped to be effective beginning lawyers-which is increasingly the case due to significant changes in the legal profession. Client concerns about rising legal fees and the resulting attenuation of the on-the-job, elbow-to-elbow training that was the core of learning to be a lawyer until the past 10 or 15 years have produced a need for greater and earlier productivity in new lawyers. That need has in turn generated a concomitant push toward greater and earlier specialization for young lawyers at firms of all sizes, for it is specialization that makes a young lawyer more productive. How does a lawyer learn enough to become productive at an earlier stage? In the largest firms, with 350 lawyers or more, there are elaborate and lengthy formal training programs. In midsized and smaller firms, those programs are simply too expensive-but those firms are subject to the same pressures that have eroded elbow-to-elbow training. Recent law graduates must start their careers with enough of a framework about what lawyers do to begin to learn quickly. This has important implications for legal education. The curriculum at most law schools should be more purposeful, more focused and more integrated. A purposeful curriculum would ask the question: “What do we want our students to have been exposed to when they leave here?” This question cannot be answered intelligently without a serious and continuing dialogue with the bar, which is simply not happening. And a law school that is serious about purposeful legal education would learn from this dialogue how best to adjust its curriculum to make sure that it offers the mix of doctrinal courses, skills-developing simulations and experiences, and practice-based knowledge necessary to give their students that exposure. This input would serve a real and practical purpose, because even the classic law faculty debate over the relative importance of skills and doctrinal courses leaves out much of what a divorce, estates, corporate, securities, financing, real estate or general business practice is all about. There is a whole body of substantive, contractual provisions that represent a customary system of private law without which one cannot begin to practice law in these areas. They are generally not taught in law school. Rethinking the third year There has been for some time a continuing debate about whether the third year of law school is really useful. It could be very useful if law schools encouraged law students to abandon the smorgasbord approach and, instead, immerse themselves sufficiently in a broad area of the law to begin to understand that their basic task is to navigate a complex system of substantive and procedural rules, governmental policies and enforcement traditions, political pressures and market practices on behalf of their client. It is the integration of all of these components that enables a lawyer to see that legal regime as a whole. That can only happen if the faculty works together to present an integrated combination of substantive law, skills and market knowledge. Is this departure from legal education as social science a shift to “nuts and bolts” education? Hardly. That is, unless you think that everything the best lawyers do in law practice is nuts and bolts. But it does mean embracing the idea that the purpose of legal education is to prepare law students for the practice of law. To say that law school prepares students to think like a lawyer is a confession that it is doing only half the job. We also need to prepare students to function like lawyers. Do we render ill service to students if we encourage them to focus on a broad practice area in which they may not find a job or which they may later decide they do not like? My own experience as a lawyer suggests that the reality is quite the opposite. It is far better preparation to learn about a broad area of the law in a systematic way than to spend one’s third year learning relatively little about a broad range of disparate subjects. This is not to say, of course, that legal scholarship should also be practice-oriented. It should not-or certainly need not. In our complex legal system, there is an endless need for rethinking what we have done, how well it is working and where we should be going. The interdisciplinary and cross-border nature of much current scholarship is deeply illuminating. It can also be useful to law students, but it should be the intellectual icing on a cake designed to fully prepare them to begin practicing law. Stephen J. Friedman is the dean of Pace University School of Law and a former commissioner of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. He has served as the former general counsel of The Equitable Life Assurance Society of America and of The E.F. Hutton Group, a securities firm. Additionally, he served as co-chairman of the corporate department at Debevoise & Plimpton.

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