Ed Schools, meet Law Schools

From Boston Business Journal:

To remedy the crippling problem of underemployed young lawyers, law schools should become more like medical schools, complete with legal residency programs that teach practical skills, according to a new report from the Massachusetts Bar Association...

“In Massachusetts, we are a relatively small state that has nine law schools. When you start to realize the sheer number of lawyers who are flooding into the job market ... you say something’s got to change,” said Eric Parker of Boston-based Parker Scheer LLP, who is co-chair of the task force.

To identify the causes of legal underemployment, the report examines the medical and dental school models, which focus on practical training, something that law schools have increasingly been accused of lacking during the past several years. In a tough economy, clients have increasingly refused to pay for inexperienced lawyers.

“It’s no wonder that when physicians and dentists graduate, they’re ready to earn,” said Parker. “They have marketable skills that people want to pay for. By contrast we found that law graduates come out with a generic exposure to legal theory and lack the experience and practical training that converts into a marketable skill.”

Practical training?

Who knew.

The ed school folks think their world is changing because of new test scores that can link teachers back to their prep programs, and because Obama is making a big deal out of measuring teachers.

The law school folks think their world is changing because of the recession (companies unwilling to pay for new associates) and lawsuits.

Yes, all 4 of those fact patterns are true. But there's a larger story.

All of higher ed is changing because of this. Okay, well, the book isn't out yet. But pre-order!

The details of higher ed change will vary across disciplines. But the theme will be the same.

1. Lower barriers to entry for providers, check.

2. Greater transparency of outcomes (how alums do in the real world), check.

(Just wait til these law firms that are suing LAW schools realize they can sue ED schools along the same lines).

3. Tighter link between the product and the profession, check.

4. Far more choices for the consumer. Some consumers will want old-fashioned knowledge delivered in a low-cost way. Some will want different knowledge than is typically provided. Others will buy high-touch and expensive but personalized coaching (a key part of our Master's In Effective Teaching). Blends will flourish.

It'll all change. A friend of mine told me:

Our daughter visited Wesleyan recently. Soup to nuts, these Mofo's want a half million in pre-tax dollars for four years of pot smoke and bad beer. Ain't gonna happen for much longer.

For now, though, change seems slow.

I got in touch with Eric Parker, the guy quoted in the article above.

Background: met Eric in 1999 via my cousin. Asked him to be the pro-bono lawyer for our start-up school which had no staff, students, or building. He smiled and said "I hate pro bono work. I try to discourage everyone from doing it." Then he signed on. Ultimately became our board chair for a long while. Advised us on various pickles, but I most appreciate him volunteering to help Charlie Sposato when he got cancer, estate planning and all that stuff.

Anyway, I asked Eric what the barriers would be to law schools changing. He said:

Not to sound glib - but antipathy toward change is the greatest obstacle to change. It's simply easier to maintain the status quo than it is to reinvent. Which is precisely why real change in the leadership ranks of professional education is so badly needed.

I read somewhere that 90% of all law school professors are graduates of just 10% of the nation's law schools. If that figure is accurate, it goes a long way toward explaining why the law school model is so uniform in its practices.

I'm a big believer in free markets. Not exactly something that you run on in Massachusetts.

Nevertheless, free market capitalism will ensure a change in the way lawyers, and doctors, and teachers are trained. Simply put, mediocrity is a senseless luxury. It can't be sustained economically. As tuition costs rise, the customer (student) will demand more and more value in exchange for her tuition dollar. She will not accept a generic degree that fails to deliver real opportunity.

Law Schools are facing a backlash from unemployed students with six-figure, non-dischargeable (in bankruptcy) debt. Without the ability to repay that debt they can all but forget a mortgage and home ownership. If practices fail to change, fewer and fewer college graduates will see a career in law as a smart bet. And if the numbers continue to fall, there will be consolidation. For more on that, see "Banking".

Finally, law school candidates themselves need to reform their expectations. TV and Hollywood movies have repeatedly portrayed medical residents as scrappers; wearing scrubs by day, sleeping on gurneys by night, and driving broken down cars as they make their way through medical training on modest salaries.

By contrast, recently minted attorneys are portrayed wearing Armani suits and driving Porsches just days after graduation. The portrayal is inaccurate to say the least, and destructive in that it leads to false expectations. When expectations and reality are brought closer together, real change will occur.

Teachers are never portrayed driving Porsches. Though Jack Black did have a cool van in School of Rock.