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How Law Schools Can Produce ‘Practice Ready’ Grads: Operate Their Own Law Firms

Posted Aug 18, 2011 8:11 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Two law professors are proposing a “radical” change to help prepare law students for practice: law firms operated by law schools.

The nonprofit, self-funding law firms would hire experienced lawyers to manage different practice groups and help train fledgling lawyers, according to the professors, Bradley Borden of Brooklyn Law School and Robert Rhee of the University of Maryland. The National Law Journal has a story.

New lawyers would be paid lower salaries so the firm could offer lower-cost representation. Grads would spend a fixed period at the firm, possibly three or six years. Large law firms could partner with the schools to provide resources, training and referrals. Excess revenue could go to the law schools.

One possibility, they say, is for law schools to require students to spend two years in the classroom, followed by work as “provisional attorneys” in the law school firm. A more traditional three-year classroom model is another option, with senior lawyers at the law school firm teaching practical third-year courses.

The profs’ proposal is outlined in an article, “The Law School Firm,” that is scheduled for publication in the South Carolina Law Review. "We see the benefit of having the law's equivalent of a teaching hospital," they write.

They caution that some issues would have to be addressed. "We understand that this may require changes in the rules of professional responsibility regarding the sharing of fees with a nonattorney; there would be issues of accreditation; and there may be tax implications," the article says. "These are also entrenched interests and concepts, and minds are not easily changed."

Rhee told the NLJ he hopes the idea spurs discussion. "It's radical, but then it's not radical," he said. "It's only radical because law schools are so set in their ways."

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