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The End of the Law School Boom

by Pejman Yousefzadeh

November, 2009

It may be happening before our eyes, given the upheaval that is going on in the culture of BigLaw. This may not be a bad thing; it would appear a consensus opinion transcending partisan lines that we have too many lawyers in the world (and I write this as a lawyer). But irrespective of whether we do have too many lawyers in the world, it would be nice to see some reforms come to legal education.

For one thing, it would be nice if we could get back to the way in which legal education was imparted: through apprenticeships. It is nice, well, and good for lawyers to learn about legal theory and philosophy, but that kind of education is not going to help you in a law firm. I don’t discount that education, and rather enjoyed receiving it, but it is clear that law schools need to focus on more practical matters, and they would serve their students better by revamping their curricula and their existence in order to allow for more hands-on learning for their students. And no, the traditional summer associate position that 2Ls strive for as a step towards an offer from a firm does not count as anything resembling hands-on learning. 2Ls are coddled into believing that the practice of law is one cocktail party, and firm outing after another. They find out that it isn’t once they become associates, and it is at that point when many of them realize that they are wholly unprepared for the practice of law.

For another thing–and I have been on this horse for quite a while–law schools would be well-served by instituting mandatory interview programs for their applicants. To the best of my knowledge, the University of Chicago Law School is one of the few schools–and perhaps the only ABA-accredited one–that requires interviews of its applicants. This is a mistake; there is so much that gets missed about a candidate if a law school only considers that candidate’s undergraduate GPA and LSAT score. Additionally–and it is time to be frank about this–there are certain people whose character and personality makes clear that they would be poisonous additions in a law school, a law firm, a public-interest legal practice, a judge’s clerkship roster, an in-house counsel’s division, you name it. Rigorous interviews might persuade some of these people that they ought not to practice law. At the very least, it might prevent some of them from getting admitted into law school.

I don’t know if the changes that we appear to be seeing take place in the world of BigLaw are permanent. Things may revert to the status quo ante once the economy is at full-steam once again. But as things stand, it does appear as though the legal culture is undergoing a fundamental transformation. If that transformation is permanent, there should be no reason whatsoever why law schools should be immune from the present and coming changes.