Future of the Legal Industry Study Generates Questions about the Effectiveness of Legal Education

Future of the Legal Industry Study Generates Questions about the Effectiveness of Legal Education

At a panel discussion of legal industry leaders, “Evolution or Revolution: The Future of the Law Firm Business Model,” the effectiveness of the legal education system became a major focus. The program, sponsored by LexisNexis to discuss the legal industry’s future, took a turn toward the very place where legal minds are molded. The discussion was held in conjunction with the release of a survey commissioned by LexisNexis  to study the state of the legal industry in the wake of the economic downturn. The panel consisted of industry leaders from two large law firms, two corporate general counsel, one legal educator, and LexisNexis President and CEO, U.S. Legal Markets, Mike Walsh.
A system considered ineffective by more than a third of law students surveyed was deemed complicit in the current inefficiencies of the legal industry.   Not surprisingly, the survey revealed that Law Students themselves feel ill-equipped when entering the profession.  In this previous Lexis Hub post, we noted the survey’s findings that 35% of law students responded that they do not feel adequately prepared to succeed in the changing legal marketplace, and many are considering alternative careers as a result of the uncertain future of the industry. As increasing numbers of firms hire fewer associates, delay offers, and shed new attorney positions at an unprecedented rate, the spotlight of scrutiny shines on proper preparation of students.
Panelist Thomas J. Sabatino, former general counsel at Schering-Plough, suggested that students undertake an internship program similar to a doctor’s residency upon graduation from law school. Other panelists disagreed on the feasibility of the idea.  Consumers don’t care as much about where law students gain real-world legal training, just that they get it somehow.   Citigroup general counsel Michael S. Helfer  added, "I'm indifferent about whether they learn that at a law firm or in school, as long as I don't have to pay for it,"   According to  Legal Blog Watch, panelists noted that where training is most lacking is not in legal skills, but in interpersonal skills.   The participants agreed that neither law schools nor law firms emphasize customer-service orientation in this professional services industry.  "The market does not reward interpersonal skills in law students, it rewards LSAT scores," conceded Indiana University Law School Professor William D. Henderson.  He admitted that schools could do more, "We've got them for three years in law school, and all we teach them is law. We have an opportunity to emphasize skills in legal education."  
Although these observations serve more as an indictment of the inefficiencies of legal training than a solution, some law schools are making headway toward a practical, skills-based legal education. The University of California, Irvine, began such a program based on practical experience and real world legal skills training.
For complete results from the LexisNexis State of the Legal Industry Survey, click here.  
By Lori Webster Sieron, Lexis Hub Staff