More Ways to Improve Law School Education

As explained in my last post, the debate on how to improve law school education—or whether it needs improving at all—is alive and well in the profession today.  That is a very good thing.  You should be aware of this debate, and you should be thinking about whether the participants in the debate know what they are talking about.  After all, those of you in law school or recently graduated are closer to these issues than anyone else.

So, here is more from the article in the New Republic.  These are the last three contributors to the debate and what they have to say:

  • Dahlia Lithwick, senior editor at Slate, goes out on a limb more than the others—at least from my perspective.  She sees the entire legal education as nineteenth century-like and catering to the students who will land the Big Law jobs—only a few from each class at most law schools. Although her observations about putting the clinical studies in the first, not the third, year of law school are interesting, I doubt that they are practical for anything except discouraging students, who are unprepared for those clinical tasks, from continuing with law school.  However, that may be Ms Lithwick’s motivation.  For me, it is painting with too broad a brush, and the anaylsis needs to be refined.  Having said that, I am very pleased to see a woman in this line-up;
  • David Lat, founder and managing editor of Above the Law, is singing off my songsheet.  He advocates requiring law school applicants to have a post-college gap year before entering law school.  His reasoning is that it forces college grads to experience the real world and to become more introspective and analytical about what they really want to do with their lives—instead of sucombing to the knee-jerk reaction of law school when they cannot think of anything more interesting.  My husband, also a lawyer, and I required this of both of our children, and they were ready for and serious about law school when they entered the hallowed halls; and
  • Mark Chandler, general counsel at Cisco, wants law school to include paid internships that also will include law school credit.  He understands the value of those internships for relating classroom to real world, and he believes that industry is ready, willing and able to provide those experiences.  Perhaps the best part of his proposal is that the interning students would not have to pay law school tuition for the period of time they are involved in the paid internships.  What a novel approach!  Instead of bleeding law students of every dime they have, law schools would waive tuition and let them earn while they are gaining experience at internships.  Hear, hear and amen….

So, now you have heard the proposals.  What do you think?  Let’s keep these ideas part of the dialogue so that we do not lapse into old ways and bad habits simply for want of trying.

We owe our chosen profession more than that.

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Thought For The Day

There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.

Colin Powell

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Time to Improve Law School Education

From time to time I write about what I consider to be the deficiencies of law school education.  I do not base this on my own experience of so many years ago, and I am sure you are relieved to hear that.  Rather, I travel the country speaking at law schools, as I will be doing again in a few weeks at William and Mary Law, and I talk to a lot of students on those occasions about their experiences.  In addition, our two children either have experienced law school recently or are experiencing it as I write.  So, I hope I have a pretty accurate view of what law school is all about today.

However, as with everything else, I do not trust my conversations and experiences alone.  I research everything!  In the past, I have shared with you some of the opinions of Professor Bill Henderson of Indiana University Law, a leading proponent of law school reform, and less enthusiastically the writings of Professor Brian Tamanaha of Washington University Law  (see Henderson blog and Tamanaha blog).  My reluctance about the latter is that too much of what Professor Tamanaha says in his book on the subject of failed law schools seems to impute the failure to the law profession as well.  I think that goes too far for the reasons stated in my blog.  If that is not what he meant, I think he should state that clearly.

There is a plethora of opinion about law school education today, as you would expect from a profession that is very well-populated and which includes members with strong opinions and desires to share them.  Some of the issues debated regularly are the need for three-year programs, the need for more clinical experiences to turn out practice-ready lawyers, the continuing relevance of the Socratic Method of teaching, and the preparedness of the average law student to enter law school directly out of undergraduate school.

I came across an interesting discussion of these issues and others recently in an article in the New Republic.  There, six contributors opined on the subject matter, and here is some food for thought as you either contemplate law school, progress through law school, or question how your law alma mater could have served you better:

  • Alan Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law, is a proponent of a two-year-plus law education.  He does not necessarily advocate less education, but, rather, he advocates education in a variety of forms and settings, specifically using the third year for practice specialization;
  • Michael Kinsley, editor-at-large of the New Republic, wants to see the Socratic Method go by way of the dinosaurs as irrelevant to today’s legal practice.  For the record, I am in the middle of this debate.  I see the value of the Socratic Method in preparing students for the courtroom, but I would like to see other teaching methods, like OJT clinical work, accompany it as equally or more valuable for many students;
  • Paul Campos, professor at the University of Colorado Law, attacks the problem at its root and before the law education process begins for many students.  He wants to stop unlimited students loans for law school to discourage some students who may not belong there in the first place and to reduce the cost of legal education.  Without the capless government loans to feed runaway tuitions, law schools presumably would have to get costs and tuitions under control.   As the mother of children with huge and rapidly-accumulating law school loans, I completely identify with this position and am glad to hear it as part of the debate;
  • AND more……but you will have to wait until the next post!

What do you think so far?  Lawyers are full of opinions, so let’s hear yours.


Career Counselors, Law School Educators, Law Students, Pre-law, Young Lawyer | 1 Comment

Thought For The Day

Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it.

Bill Cosby

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Get the October 2013 BFAB Newsletter!

The October 2013 Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter went out last week to over 800 addresses.  Get on board!  If you are not signed up to receive the newsletter, you are missing lots of good information on women in the law and related subjects.

You can sign up for the Best Friends at the Bar Newsletter by clicking the “Newsletter” tab at the top of the Home Page of my web site.  Or, if you e-mail me at [email protected], I will add you to the newsletter mailing list and send you a copy of the October Newsletter.

Make sure that you are ‘in the know’ by subscribing to the monthly Best Friends at the Bar newsletter for young women lawyers.

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Thought For The Day

An imagination is a powerful tool. It can tint memories of the past, shade perceptions of the present, or paint a future so vivid that it can entice…or terrify, all depending upon how we conduct ourselves today.
James Robert “Jim” Davis , Famous For “Garfield

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The Women Were the Winners … Again

Remember the government shutdown?  The one that lasted 16 days earlier this month, closed the national parks, caused civilian government consultants to lay off workers, and made absolutely no sense at all—unless, of course, you are a person who never learned to share and has a “winner takes all” mentality.  And, there certainly appeared to be enough of them roaming the halls of Congress during the debacle.

So, it is pretty much agreed that the whole thing was a disaster, which had a negative effect on the Gross Domestic Product and probably cost the nation more than if the government had been up and running the entire time.  It also created a negative perception of the effectiveness of American government around the world, and the question still being debated is “Did anyone win?”

That debate typically pits one political party against the other, with some bickering within the parties, and it all depends on whose rhetoric you believe.  So, make it easy for yourself, don’t get sucked in.  Rather, take a close look at the leadership that brokered the deal that got government back on track, and it will be obvious who won.  The WOMEN won!

Yes, the women demonstrated the real leadership in this fight.  Women like Senator Susan Collins (Republican from Maine), Republican Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Republican Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, and 11 other members of the Senate, some of whom showed the guts to go against their own party leadership, and all of whom showed the consensus building that proved critical to a solution.  Of the 14 Senators (7 Republicans, 6 Democrats and 1 independent), six of them were women. They rolled up their sleeves and worked together to help forge a plan that would fund the government, pay the nation’s debts around the world, and urge the two houses of Congress to come up with a longer-term plan.  That takes creativity, selflessness and an abiding concern for a solution that is the best for the most people.

It all started with Senator Collins’ strident speech on the floor of the Senate, urging her colleagues to “stop fighting and start legislating,” and the rest is history.  Although the plan crafted by the 14 did not initially pass the Senate, some of the plan’s key elements were folded  into the final agreement that was reached by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Democrat of Nevada) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Republican of Kentucky).

Ironically, this kind of consensus building is a rare trait among politicians today, elected officials who should understand that huge democratic government cannot run without it.  We all should be grateful that women have been practicing these compromise and negotiation skills from the beginning of time and that enough of them were present in the current Senate to make a difference.

This critical leadership from women is no surprise to those of us who have been observing professional women for years.  It is this special brand of leadership that makes women lawyers so valuable to their individual practices and to best practices in the legal profession.  Communication skills, negotiation skills, consensus building and affinity for common ground are skills that are naturals for most women lawyers, and they cannot be underestimated or undervalued.

For that reason, the talent drain that is seriously affecting retention of women lawyers, for reasons of work-life challenges among others, is also a drain of skills of diplomacy, which are becoming more and more valuable in a global economy.  Cultures and values differ significantly throughout the world, and doing business on a global scale takes all of the skills that the women Senators demonstrated last week.

Senator Collins is quoted as saying, “You cannot solve problems if you are not talking.”

And, I might add, “listening.”  Something that women do especially well.



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Thought For The Day

Watch the sunrise at least once a year, put a lot of marshmallows in your hot chocolate, lie on your back and look at the stars, never buy a coffee table you can’t put your feet on, never pass up a chance to jump on a trampoline, don’t overlook life’s small joys while searching for the big ones.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

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