I went into this issue at length earlier this week. Yes, it's true. As a young and bright person, law school grads bring little to the table as an associate. It's not their fault. Law school does a horrid job of "preparing" law students to become practicing lawyers. But Dean Levi of Duke Law thinks this untrue:
For 17 years as a U.S. district judge, I hired first-year lawyers as clerks, and they were wonderfully productive, insightful, careful, skillful and hardworking. I gained a huge amount of very valuable assistance in preparing opinions and researching complex legal issues. Although it was somewhat of a burden to train a new crop of clerks each year, it was also a joy and undoubtedly made me a better judge.
I am certain that the same is true of new lawyers at firms, at government offices and at nonprofits. Indeed, I often have heard distinguished lawyers in all kinds of practice say that one of the aspects of being a lawyer they value the most is their interaction with, and instruction of, new and young lawyers. They say this not because young lawyers are worthless, but because they have so much to offer when properly guided.Well, the problem with Dean Levi's logic, is that these students were likely productive, insightful, careful and hardworking before they went to law school. Don't get me started on researching "complex" legal issues either. Since Google has taken the place of Lexis and Westlaw, anyone can excel at researching complex legal issues. Frankly, very few legal issues are that complex. I know this because I explain the law to all of my clients and they all have a great understanding of their legal rights with a simple explanation. Some clients have approached me with what strategies that they came up after a few late nights on Google. So, what's the difference between a college graduate and a law school graduate? Not much. That's why complaints are mounting. Law Firms, selfish corporations that they are, are not willing to train attorneys on procedure--which can be truly complex and is NOT taught in law school. Instead, they fire young associates, or hold off on hiring and place the blame on law schools:
The criticism comes from law firm managers, in-house counsel and former lawyers who now comment on the legal profession. They most likely represent a minority view, but they are vocal. They say that clients are no longer willing to pay for the work of young associates because their work is "worthless." We might expect clients to make any argument that could lead to a lower bill, particularly during an economic downturn. But it is wrong and surprising for experienced lawyers inside and outside of firms to acquiesce in, even reinforce, this line of argument.Clearly, the market dictates that there is no demand for an associate who bills at $350/hour. Why would there be? An inexperienced associate will take 10 hours to do what a mid-level associate can do in 2 hours. So, the clients are asking for discounts in their legal fees, and the law firms are turning around and slashing the overpriced associates. I don't blame law firms. I blame law schools. Dean Levi defends law schools as follows:
As a law school dean for the past three years, I know that law school graduates are ready and able to practice in firms, government agencies and public interest positions. Whatever room there may be for continued improvement to the law school curriculum, there is little doubt that the young lawyers whom we graduate today are equally well and better prepared for practice than at any other time in our history. Our graduates have had the benefit of superb clinical and experiential educational opportunities. Many of them already will have appeared in court, written appellate briefs and participated in simulated deals and transactions. They have had the discipline of thinking about difficult legal issues and applying that theoretical knowledge in the search for solutions to real-world problems. Many will graduate with joint degrees in business, economics, public policy, international law and the sciences. All of them have had substantial legal writing experience. Most of them are "tech savvy" in ways that both amaze and enormously benefit their less proficient elders.It's not enough, Dean Levi. Listen to the Legal Industry. They aren't going to change their opinions because you told them to. Make Duke Grads more employable. That's what you're paid to do.
Even as conditions seem to improve, let's not permit the junior members of the profession to bear a disproportionate share of the burdens caused by the downturn on the ground they are only getting what they deserve.
What they deserve is the opportunity to show what they can do.Why don't you do your part to lessen the burden on our young graduates? Why don't you decrease the tuition so they are able to find employment in smaller firms and eat and pay back Sallie Mae, simultaneously. You, Mr. Levi, and every other Dean of law schools are robbing our students blind. You have a duty to your students. Skaaden Arps doesn't. Jones Day doesn't. Neither does Mayer Brown. You have publicly acknowledged the problem, unlike most Deans. I will give you credit for that. Now create a solution.