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Mass. Bar Task Force: Legal Education Could Take a Page from Medical Education’s Book

Posted May 21, 2012 4:30 PM CDT
By Sarah Mui

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The Massachusetts Bar Association's Task Force on the Law, the Economy and Underemployment released a report last week exploring the causes of and solutions for underemployment of law school graduates.

The task force, made up of 12 licensed lawyers, one law student and one university pre-law adviser devoted six months to the report, titled "Beginning the Conversation" (PDF) and focused to a certain extent on how law schools contribute to the problem.

The first section of the report compared how law school admissions rates and total numbers of graduates compare with those of medical schools and dental schools.

The report found that in the 2010-11 academic year, law schools as a whole admitted 60,400 students—68.7 percent of applicants. And in 2010, approximately 49,700 students graduated from American Bar Association-accredited law schools. Meanwhile, the report notes that U.S. medical schools as a whole have a 43.6 percent admissions rate, and that there are approximately 18,665 medical school graduates each year.

Also, in the third and fourth years of medical school, students are in hospitals, rotating through different specialties. And for approximately three to six (or more) years after graduation, MDs are in residencies in a specific area of medical sub-specialization—and there are some 23,000 residency positions available, more than enough for all graduates.

"What can law schools learn from this comparison?" the report asks. The third year of law school should focus more on practical training, the report said. “The task force recommends that the MBA encourage Bay State law schools to reinvent the third year so as to provide greater opportunities for law students to gain practical legal experience and expand opportunities to hone their legal writing skills, beyond that offered through traditional first-year legal writing programs.”

Task force co-chair Eric Parker of Boston-based Parker Scheer told Boston Business Journal that it's no wonder that physicians and dentists graduate ready to earn. “They have marketable skills that people want to pay for. By contrast, we found that law graduates come out with a generic exposure to legal theory and lack the experience and practical training that converts into a marketable skill.”

The report also recommends the creation of a legal residency program. "In such a program, recent law school graduates could apply for legal residency positions with Massachusetts law firms participating in residency training."

Other sections of the report focus on ensuring that prospective law students are informed consumers; controlling the number of attorneys licensed to practice in Massachusetts by adopting a lower bar pass rate (in 2010, 81 percent of takers passed the Massachusetts bar; meanwhile, 49 percent of takers passed the California bar); imposing greater limitations on Massachusetts' reciprocity rules; and creating incentives for Massachusetts law graduates to practice elsewhere after graduation.

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