Law Schools

The Costs of Legal Scholarship: $575M in Tuition and Grads Who Don’t Know How to Practice

Updated: The chances of obtaining a tenure-track job at a law school begin to diminish after eight or nine years of practice.

And that is partly why law schools are not producing lawyers who are trained in legal practice, the New York Times reports. The story quotes an unidentified lawyer who is an adjunct professor. Law practice experience “can be fatal,” he says, “because the academy wants people who are not sullied by the practice of law.” (Legal clinics are an exception, but they have second-class status, the story says.)

To win tenure and higher salaries, law professors have to produce law review articles, and students are financing their research. The article estimates that student tuition financed $575 million in legal scholarship last year alone.

The emphasis on more esoteric pursuits in law schools is a particular problem in the current job market, where lawyers can’t find jobs and don’t have the skills to go solo, the story says. Those who do get hired at big firms are finding that clients don’t want to pay for them to learn on the job.

The story cites these statistics:

• Professors hired at top-tier law schools since 2000 had a median of one year of practical experience, according to a 2010 study. Nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law.

• Nearly 47 percent of law firm leaders say they’ve had a client who has refused to pay for work by first- and second-year associates, according to a 2010 survey by American Lawyer.

The story begins with a corporate law training program for first-year associates at Drinker Biddle & Reath. “How do you get a merger done?” lawyer Scott Connolly asked his pupils. The only associate who ventured an answer got it wrong. The firm spends four months training new associates, who take home a lower paycheck while they learn.

Several blogs reacted to the story, including Educating Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Simple Justice, the Volokh Conspiracy, Inside the Law School Scam and My Shingle.

Updated at 1 p.m. on Nov. 22 to include blog reaction.

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