Law Students

Do Law School Curriculums Teach Students All They Need to Know?
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Summary: Many believe law school curriculums to be stale and lacking in the proper skills to prepare graduates for the real world of practicing law.

Law schools face a major challenge in teaching students all they can in three short years about the law. What makes things even harder for the law schools are that the laws are ever-changing. The National Jurist explores what many ask themselves about law schools and how prepared law students are upon graduation.

  
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Many students admit when questioned that they do not feel prepared with the necessary skills and knowledge to be a successful lawyer. A study from 2009 reported that 50 percent of those who had graduated seven years earlier felt their law schools failed to prepare for their legal careers. Sixty percent felt their education focused on theoretical instead of real-life practice.

After the recession, a survey of 2013 graduates, showed very little change even though a push for more practical skills had been made. The recent study found that roughly 87 percent felt legal education needed major changes in order for future attorneys to be ready for the real world of practicing law.

Legal employers give similar impressions of law schools and their lack of sufficiently educating law students. A 2009 LexisNexis survey showed that 90 percent of lawyers do not feel that law schools teaching practical business skills required of practicing law. Another survey from 2015 provided an even dimmer outlook. In this survey, 95 percent of hiring partners and associates find recent graduates to be lacking in key practical skills when they are hired.

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So what kind of skills are legal employers wanting graduates to get out of law school? Soft skills like work ethic, attention to detail, and communication are valued as much as legal research and writing. Some employers state that professionalism and communication are more important than a vast legal knowledge.

Generally, skills like interpersonal skills and professionalism are learned through externships and clinics. While these kinds of courses improved in numbers between 2005 and 2013, the growth in experiential courses has not been enough.



Critics also feel that law school are failing to adapt to technological, economic and societal changes that affect the industry. Too many law schools still rely on legal research using books when barely any employers utilize books still. Business skills are an area that is greatly overlooked by legal educators, especially when it comes to handling developments like accounting firms, group legal service plans, and limited scope representation.

Law schools know what people are saying, these surveys are widely available so why aren’t they doing more to help their students succeed after graduation? A white paper by the Christensen Institute points at the faculty as the problem. Tenured and tenure-track faculty “rule the roost” when it comes to what and how they teach. Concord Law School at Purdue University Global Dean Martin Pritikin added, “While a few tenure-based professors embraced change, many were fearful of or unwilling to go out of their comfort zone.”

Law schools also put a lot of effort into ensuring they receive a good ranking on the U.S. News and World Report top law school list. The report uses academic prestige over pedagogical innovation so change is seen as a major risk. Keeping their bar passage rates high is another aspect of law schools rankings and accreditation. Changing a curriculum that supports getting students to pass the bar exam is also a risk that most schools are not excited to take.

What do you think law schools can do to better prepare their students? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

To learn more about what law firms are looking for in graduates, read these articles:

Photo: commons.wikimedia.org



 

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