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Associates ‘R’ Us LLP

What if you could graduate from law school with a guaranteed job at a law firm, and this law firm promised to do its best to groom and train you from Year 1 through your first years as a junior associate?

The pay would not be commensurate with a Big Law salary, but you would get the experience necessary to move forward successfully in your career. In our current economy, I can’t think of too many unemployed law grads who would turn an offer down.

This is the proposal set forth by several law schools, including Brooklyn Law School and the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law: that law schools could open independently-operated law firms for recent graduates.

In an article slated for publication in the South Carolina Law Review, Brooklyn’s Bradley Borden and Maryland’s Robert Rhee discuss the concept of a law school “firm” akin to the teaching hospital learning experience for medical students. The law firm would be affiliated with the law school, but would remain an independent entity through professional management and revenue generation. Participation in a firm that functions like a real law firm would provide much better training than clinics offer as part of the curriculum for credit.

Salaries would be similar to the numbers offered in public interest positions to allow for more focus on training and education versus client billable hours, as well as provide much-needed legal representation to those below the poverty level. Another benefit to a law firm affiliated with a law school is that it would combat the growing trend of clients balking at paying bills connected to junior associate work. (See a Wall Street Journal blog post about the “value” of first-year associates.)

What are your thoughts? Would a law school-affiliated law firm relieve some of the deficiencies in junior attorney training and education within actual law firms? Would a law school-affiliated law firm operate more successfully than a clinic for credit in providing new attorneys with practical experience? How would this type of position compare to a judicial clerkship?

3 comments

  1. This issue was thoroughly hashed out in the sixties, in the debate over clinical legal education. For many reasons, some practical, some intellectual, law schools are not equipped to run “teaching law firms” in a private sector, fee-for-service world. The medical school analogy does not work and never has. Professors Borden and Rhee are young, and they don’t know this history, so perhaps they can be forgiven for their excess of proprietary enthusiasm (though not for their bad arguments – of which they make quite a few). Writing articles is what professors do (for good and bad), and one can’t fault an organism for playing to type. But to publicize the proposal is an independent mistake, not the fault of the Professors, and one that should be avoided. Let the proposal die a natural death in the dusty halls of the legal academy, which it appears to be doing.

  2. Here’s my suggestion: Close a bunch of (under performing) law schools. Tighten admissions standards so you actually have to show academic aptitude before you sign your loan papers. Reduce the tuition bubble by reforming the tenure system and cutting inflated academic pay. Make student loans dischargeable in bankruptcy (hence giving the lenders a stake in the outcome). Problem solved.

    The notion of a law school sponsored “law firm” for graduates who cannot find employment elsewhere is sort of like paying farmers subsidies to grow things they can’t sell. Oh wait, we do that too.

  3. Pushkin,my friend, we meet again.