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Monday, May 28, 2018
Why Work Experience is Critical for Law School Applicants
Over the past decade, beleaguered law schools and an economically depressed professional environment has caused the study of law to get a disproportionate amount of negative attention. Experts on all sides have floated what-went-wrong theories along side how-to-fix-it speculation. This post doesn't promise to do either. Instead, I'm posing a single question: why don't law schools place a higher premium on incoming students' work experience?
It isn't uncommon for professional degree programs to swoop up brand new college grads. Post-bachelor "gap years" aren't really a thing. Yet law school is one of the only places where students aren't trained in practical skills or encouraged to acquire them before studying the law. Even medical students have required practical training as residents. Business schools welcome professional experience, and executive MBA programs effectively require it.
At the top law schools, securing summer associateships is seen as the fast-track to post-graduate Big Law employment. But for the vast majority of law students, these coveted spots are out of reach. And while law schools steep their students in case law and the Socratic method, they churn out thousands of highly intelligent but completely inexperienced graduates every year. It has long been expected that first-year associates simply learn on the job.
This is an unnecessary waste, but not entirely surprising. After all, many tenured law professors have little to no practice experience and students going on to clerkships don't necessarily need to pass the bar. Yet, legal practice, like any professional realm, needs attorneys who can perform in the courtroom, manage client expectations, and keep pace with procedure as readily as they can with substantive law.
From a public policy perspective, producing better-rounded graduates enriches the entire profession and the people it serves. Law isn't always applied theoretically, and shouldn't always be taught that way.
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