Law School: A Key Area for Change Being Overlooked

September 25, 2009

This subject keeps popping in conversations, and usually under the “reform” umbrella. Most of the focus on billing, virtual assistants, outsourcing – ways to streamline the practice in order to survive the recession. Few argue the legal profession is overdue for a change; but a key area for change is being overlooked. Stephen Fairley points out this area, commonly referred to as “law school,” in a post to his Rainmaker Blog: Why Law Schools are Failing Attorneys and the Legal Industry. His point is that law schools do not teach the “business” side of law, and thus produce lawyer illequipped to start a solo practice, or bring in new business (legal cases) at small, medium or even large firms.

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, it comes as little surprise that I agree with Mr. Fairley. In fact, I have commented on more than one occasion that law schools are very much like assembly lines, spitting out identical products year after year that are gobbled up by law firms, year after year. The recession has thrown a wrench into the status quo, and law firms are suddenly realizing that identical products are not working. People point to a variety of factors, but if you want to get to the root of the problem, look to law schools.

In fact, I’d venture a step further and say look at the American Bar Association (ABA), the accrediting institution for law schools. It has list of standards that must be met before a school can be approved, and a rather lengthy approval process. You’ll notice a “Foreign Study Criteria” section that covers summer programs, studying at foreign institutions and semester abroad programs. This makes perfect sense as the world continues to shrink and borders, as we have come to know and understand them, disappear. Law bleeds into itself these days, especially with Internet.

So, then, why is there not such criteria for the business of law? Is not the business side of law as important as the law itself and “foreign study”?

Clearly the answer is no, the business side of law is not as important, perhaps not important at all. And, undoubtedly, someone will point to the various companies and services that A) teach you the business side or B) take care of it for you. After all, as a lawyer, you want to practice law, not deal with all the details of a “business.”

My counter to that is: how do you know the “business” people are being honest, truthful, straight-forward, if you don’t know anything about the “business” side? You open yourself up to a whole host of problems if you don’t have at least a basic understanding, no?

Also, please note that I’m not advocating full-fledged MBA-type courses. And indeed, there are a number of law schools that offer joint JD/MBA degrees, and if you want to spend that money and time getting both, more power to you. Such schools may be jumping out ahead of the ABA, though I think making joint JD/MBA degrees an accreditation requirement is going overboard.

Something needs to be done, however. And if law firms, law students, professors…anyone with a stake in the future of law, are serious about change, it’s time to take your case to the ABA, and your alma mater.