Remember all those laments about the sorry state of legal education? You know the argument: Law schools are antiquated and fail miserably at teaching students even basic lawyering skills. The result, say critics, is an inefficient supply chain, resulting in expensive on-the-job training, high legal fees, and disgruntled clients.
Ah, if only law schools produced practice-ready lawyers, firms would be swooping down to hire their students, and everyone would benefit, right?
For the past few years, Washington & Lee has been giving the market exactly what it says it wants—well-trained grads. (Its innovative third-year program was praised by Bill Henderson as the "biggest legal education story of 2013, and the National Jurist named the school’s faculty one of the "25 most influential people in legal education," says the TaxProf blog.)
And guess what it got back in return? Nada. Except crummy job results. Here's what Deborah Jones Merritt, a law professor at Ohio States, writes in TaxProf:
Washington & Lee’s recent employment outcomes are worse than those of similarly ranked schools. The results are troubling for advocates of experiential learning. They should also force employers to reflect on their own behavior: Does the rhetoric of “practice ready” graduates align with the reality of legal hiring? . . .
Washington & Lee’s employment outcomes for 2011 were noticeably mediocre. By nine months after graduation, only 55 percent of the school’s graduates had obtained full-time, long-term jobs that required bar admission. . . .
In 2012, the numbers were even worse. Only 49.2 percent of Washington & Lee’s 2012 graduates obtained full-time, long-term jobs that required a law license. . . .
So why did W&L (which ranks 26 in U.S. News & World Report) fare so badly in the job sweepstakes? TaxProf offers several theories, but they all boil down to this: "The connection between practical training and jobs is much smaller than practitioners and bar associations assert."
In other words, all that talk about how law schools need to train lawyers better is just a lot of hot air. Firms don't really expect recruits to have learned anything useful in law school—nor do they really care.
None of this surprises me. In the world of Big Law, most firms are too arrogant and too steeped in tradition to give a hoot about whether their recruits are equipped with practical skills. They would rather hire someone who got high grades and spent untold hours laboring on some esoteric law review note over a candidate with superb practical skills any day.
Maybe personal injury firms or small firms in small towns are interested in grads who can draft a simple contract or write a complaint. But that's not what big firms are after. I've said this countless times, and I'll say it again: Law in the big leagues is a vain, pedigree-obsessed profession.
Which means it's a badge of honor to be highly inefficient and impractical. But we all know that, right?
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