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Increasing the practicality of law school

According to the American Bar Association’s first empirical survey of law school curricula in a decade (which will be released on Aug. 4), 76 percent of law schools surveyed have modified their curricula to adapt to the employment issues our law graduates face today.

The National Law Journal notes this is only one of the key findings discovered through the survey. One of the hardest hurdles for a new lawyer to face is lack of experience. Law schools are trying to bolster the amount of practical skills they offer students by increasing the opportunities to participate in clinics, simulations and externships.

While nothing will replace the actual experience of practicing as a licensed attorney, I felt like my experience as a student adviser at George Mason’s Servicemember clinic was invaluable. I also had the advantage of working as a paralegal before I entered law school. I think these two items on my resume helped me greatly.

I also think that legal research and writing courses were extremely valuable, so it is good to see that law schools have also increased their emphasis on these types of courses as well as the number of course units offered. Eighty-seven percent of law schools offer joint degree programs as well.

However, many things remain the same despite room for improvement. The survey found the same number of schools reported requiring specific courses after the first year as they did in 2002 — with subject matter tested by bar examinations playing no role in these course requirements. Also, the number of law schools that allowed 1L students to take electives increased from 14 in 2002 to only 33 in 2010.

Distance education options are also expanding but still less than half of the law schools surveyed allow online course to count towards a J.D. Only 23 percent of respondents reported offering synchronous courses — in which classes are taught online or via video in real time (up from 13 percent in 2002). Also, 25 percent of law schools offer asynchronous distance education classes, meaning that students complete them in their own schedules (up from 11 percent in 2002). Those increases are fairly minimal for almost a decade passing with many technological advances.

Looking back, what do you think was or were the most valuable skills you gained from law school in preparation for the bar exam and your first job as an attorney? What would you change or add? Did you feel that experience in the legal field prior to law school was helpful?

2 comments

  1. Education of any kind (even law school education), when it’s done well, prepares you for life, not to pass an exam. The idea that the first year law school curriculum should be dictated by the Bar exam is just silly. There’s a perverse irony in the contemporary calls for reform of legal education. A generation of badly educated young people (largely because political demagoguery dominated educational policy when they were in elementary and secondary school) is now demanding that graduate education be reshaped to fit their simple-minded and superficial beliefs. “You get what you pay for” still has force.

  2. jic@harfordcountymd.gov

    In the summer of 1976, I participated in the UB law Rule 16 program by trying cases at a State’s Attorneys office. As a result I was offered a job at that office after admission to the bar. Now as the State’s Attorney, I look for Rule 16 experience in the courtroom on resumes I screen from job applicants. Not only is it a valuable learning experience but it is a three month job interview with someone who can give you a meaningful employment reference.