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A year ago, I became dean of Pace Law School after a career in law practice, government and corporate life. What I found throughout legal education surprised me. From the point of view of a practicing lawyer, legal education has not evolved to meet the demands of a rapidly changing profession. It has, in fact, changed surprisingly little in the 40-odd years since I graduated — certainly not enough to meet the needs of law firms under increasing pressure to transform students into productive lawyers as quickly as possible. While we don’t need radical changes in a law curriculum that has worked for a long time, legal education must be brought into closer alignment with the need of law students to hit the ground running when they begin to practice law. In the classical paradigm, law school taught students how to “think like a lawyer” and exposed them to a wide range of substantive law, usually in little depth. After graduation, students sat at the elbow of experienced lawyers to learn the substantive law of the area in which their practice was centered and how lawyers in that area operate. The attitude of the large firms was “give us bright law students and we will teach them how to be lawyers.” This apprenticeship model worked well so long as young lawyers were underpaid and their billable hours could be heavily discounted, or written off entirely. In the early 1960s, when I graduated from law school, the starting salary at large New York firms was $5,000, which is only $25,205 in 2005 dollars based on the GDP deflator. PREMIUM TIME Times certainly have changed. Young lawyers are highly paid, resulting in high hourly rates for even the newest lawyers, and there is increasing pressure on partners to bill clients for all time, including associates’ time, at a premium rather than a discount. Clients are resentful about being asked to underwrite the training of lawyers. Those forces make on-the-job training less and less economically feasible. Law firms want young lawyers to be productive as quickly as possible; in turn that produces pressure for early specialization. Against the background of these changes and trends in the profession, the limited evolution in legal education has resulted in a growing mismatch between what law schools are teaching and what’s needed in new associates. We hear constant complaints about graduates’ poor writing skills and their overall lack of preparation for practice — “they just don’t know anything about law practice” is a common description of new associates. This is a gap that can be bridged only by formal training. If law firms do not provide it, then law schools or other providers must do so. As recently as 15 years ago, even large law firms provided fairly limited formal training programs. Consulting firms, accounting firms, and investment and commercial banks all had formal training programs that lasted up to six months. In the early 1990s even the largest law firms had little more than a week of boot camp for new lawyers. Today, the large law firms have continued to fill the legal education gap themselves, now with extensive formal training programs, including extensive skills training, rather than on-the-job training. They have lengthened the introductory boot camp and continued training regimes throughout the associate years. In many firms, what had been internal practice group meetings have been formalized to meet applicable bar standards for CLE credit, including lengthy written materials and in some cases extensive use of computer-based presentation materials. In the corporate and financing area, firms often have extensive discussions of the structure, background and meaning of mergers and acquisitions agreements and financing terms. Midsized and small firms face many of the same economic pressures as larger firms, and the same need for coaxing early productivity from lawyers, but they lack the financial resources for extensive internal formal training. Law schools must take up the slack, but most have not yet done so. If they do not, they will cede the field to others, most likely continuing legal education providers, an industry segment undergoing enormous growth. Last year alone, more than 40,000 lawyers attended programs provided by the Practising Law Institute. CLE providers have made some moves in the direction of training programs tailored to the needs of specific law firms, but most have not yet done so successfully. More important, there is certainly no social benefit in legal education evolving increasingly further away from law practice. FAILED TO EVOLVE In what way have the law schools failed to evolve? Thirteen years ago, the MacCrate Report of the American Bar Association identified the failure of legal education to educate students in many of the skills and values needed to practice law. It had a positive effect on the growth of clinical education and skills training, although largely in the litigation area. But it has done little for those new lawyers whose work is transactional, or who focus on advising businesses or individuals and families, or who specialize in real estate or international transactions. Even in the area of litigation, there are major shortcomings because of the lack of overall purpose in most curricula and a lack of integration of most law school programs. Clarity of purpose is as fundamental to a law school curriculum as it is to most other endeavors. Learning to think like a lawyer is a technique, not the goal of law school. For me, it is clear that the educational goal of an American law school should be to educate and train effective new lawyers. To many practicing lawyers, that goal seems obvious. If it had been accepted, however, there would be an ongoing dialogue between legal academia and practicing lawyers on precisely how to go about creating effective new lawyers. There is little or no such discussion. The goal of creating effective new lawyers has two important implications. First, law schools must constantly ask themselves: “Is this curriculum designed to produce effective new lawyers? Do we offer the right courses and are they integrated in a meaningful way?” Second, the desire for an objective-based education with courses designed to progress in a meaningful fashion inevitably leads to more focus in a student’s law school experience. Law practice has become much more specialized in the last 20 years. Legal education needs to give students meaningful experience in some area of the law. The need for focus raises the dreaded debate about the dangers of specialization in law school. I do not think that greater focus is a cause for concern. Most lawyers can remember when they first felt comfortable functioning as a lawyer. Something intrinsic kicks in, their knowledge and skills coalesce, and they reach a point where what they already know more than makes up for what they do not yet know. When a lawyer has a broad understanding of how the corporate tax system works, or of real estate practice, or of the legal complexities of international trade, then he or she can begin to think like a lawyer. Navigating a legal regime is an intellectual skill that is transferable to mastering other legal regimes. Lawyers routinely shift their practice from one area to another as a former specialty becomes less important because of regulatory or market changes. Or their clients’ needs change. When I began to practice law, there was an extensive market for financings in the form of extensively negotiated private placements by insurance companies. The market for private placements was displaced by quasi-public Rule 144A financings and then by other forms of widely distributed institutional debt. Lawyers made that shift with relative ease, even though the market and terms were entirely different. Similarly, a student is far better off with a law school experience that comes as close as possible to an integrated combination of skills, knowledge and substantive law in one broad area — such as litigation or corporate transactions — than with a smorgasbord of unrelated courses, even if that student ends up practicing in an entirely different area. Law schools have the opportunity to create an integrated group of courses covering broad practice areas that would give students a meaningful introduction to the major tasks they will face as new lawyers. This role for law schools has important implications for the design of the curriculum. It requires a more focused legal education. This approach starts out by asking, “What courses and skills does a student need in order to be an effective new corporate lawyer?” — or litigator, or family lawyer, or nonprofit lawyer, or whatever. The skills needed by each of these practice areas do not correspond easily to current curriculum design, and examining legal education through the prism of practice areas provides a useful perspective for organizing the curriculum. We can then ask whether the curriculum has the right mix of courses, both doctrinal and skill sets, and whether they are offered as a coherent series designed to achieve a meaningful objective. Litigation offerings highlight the differences in approach. Most law schools offer many relevant courses and experiences in this area, including civil procedure, evidence, trial practice and other simulations, negotiation, arbitration, mediation and externships and clinical experience. A practice-oriented approach might begin by asking what substantive and procedural law and skills a new litigator should know to be able to work effectively in dispute resolution. It would consider how existing courses dovetail with one another and what new courses are needed, which part of evidence is best taught in a doctrinal setting and which is best learned through simulations, where moot courts fit in, and which nonlegal skills are essential (such as presentation training and psychology). Would this approach produce real specialists? Of course not. Law school necessarily covers too much ground and students’ desires to sample other areas should be satisfied. True specialization runs deeper than most law schools can or should reasonably teach. At Pace Law School, we are committed to producing law students who can hit the ground running when they begin law practice, and individual faculty members have introduced practice-oriented elements in important parts of the curriculum. In our leading environmental law program, for example, there is a challenging course covering environmental practice skills. And the environmental law clinic has a trial practice course focused on the special challenges of trying environmental law cases. Similarly, our expanding real estate curriculum incorporates a new course designed to capture the essential elements of a variety of complex real estate transactions. A more focused approach to legal education would recognize that law schools are professional schools, designed to prepare students for entry into a specific profession. It would serve the interests of students, who are headed to a profession that will ask them to be productive in a specific area earlier than they expect, as well as the interests of the legal profession. Stephen J. Friedman is dean and professor of law at Pace University Law School.

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