Going to Law School, But Not for a JD

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If you’ve read my posts in the past, you probably know that I have a very bleak outlook on law school in general. I think it is a risky, expensive venture that is not right for most people. Even the brightest students can struggle early in law school–when it matters most–and find themselves scrambling to find employment after graduation. Moreover, the law school model is worth questioning; it is arguably a year too long and prohibitively priced for too many people.

As the weaknesses inherent in legal education become more apparent, especially as a result of the shaky job market, schools are recognizing that they need to make changes. For example, here’s a story about how one law school is broadening its mission to train students to work in the law and offering degrees besides a JD. This post is dedicated to the new approaches taken by schools such as Delaware.

Generally speaking, I think Delaware’s approach has merit, but it is not a panacea for the ails troubling legal education in America. Law schools, for the most part, do not create practice-ready lawyers. If the Delaware program is actually helping people get jobs in a lucrative field, then it is a relatively inexpensive means of securing a meaningful career in an interesting field. If, however, it is merely a meaningless graduate degree that costs time and money, doesn’t create concrete benefits, and is a poor substitute for actually working in the field, then it obviously leaves a lot to be desired. When more graduates leave the program, it will help ascertain the merits of such a program.

Beyond the specific program, however, I am not thrilled that this is the route some schools are taking. I would much prefer an accelerated J.D. program or cheaper tuition than a side path to a job with some legal connections. I would also prefer to see lower tier law schools close their doors than bolster their profitability by broadening their appeal. There are an over abundance of law schools and legal graduates in this country–one factor driving the unavailability of jobs–and it doesn’t benefit anyone to allow unsuccessful law schools to keep their doors open by moving away from the J.D. program.

Law schools need to make changes. While I’m not convinced that Delaware’s approach is necessarily an effective one, or even a helpful one to the overall state of legal education, I would be much more supportive if it truly prepared students for a career. As usual, I have my doubts about the law school’s motives and a healthy suspicion regarding the viability of a degree from the program.

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