Recently, after law professors and law students brought to light that some firms make summer associates sign arbitration agreements for employment-related claims, including sexual harassment claims, law students banded together and got a bunch of law schools (including all of the T14 schools) to ask that firms participating in campus recruiting disclose such policies. Hearing about this story made me start thinking about what else the collective bargaining power of law students could accomplish.
Now, before I go through my list of potential changes, I just want to be clear that I am in no way trying to denigrate the importance of the changes regarding arbitration agreements by airing some substantially less significant changes that I believe would be positive. So, with that caveat, let’s go through the changes I’d make to the LSAT, to law school, and to firm hiring.
1. LSAT: Eliminate the Writing Sample
When I took the LSAT, I found the writing sample portion completely unnecessary. When I was an instructor, I found it hardly worth mentioning. When I was applying, I found it laughable that schools would consider the writing sample amongst all the other essays I wrote. Reflecting on the process now, none of my opinions have changed. It is borderline sadistic to force students who have just completed an incredibly stressful exam to stay seated and scribble out some rote response to a nonsensical fact pattern. If students and faculty asked LSAC to make the change, it would be one step forward in making the LSAT less miserable.
2. Law School: Emphasize Experiential and Practical Learning
To be honest, there were two other changes that appealed to me more regarding law school — get rid of the third year and reduce tuition. But I wanted to keep it realistic. I don’t really see a realistic path forward for either of those options. So, instead, I believe there should more focus on the practical aspects of legal practice during the third year of law school. The biggest failing of legal education is that it doesn’t prepare you to actually be a lawyer. The vast majority of your time is spent reading opinions that really only give you a broad sense of the way appellate arguments look in practice. To be fair, almost all schools provide some experiential opportunities in the form of clinics and externships. But there is generally no requirement that students participate, and the offerings are usually somewhat limited.
Moreover, students’ summer experiences at firms are generally a 10 week party filled with social events and no real emphasis on actual legal work. Schools should focus more attention on preparing students for life as a legal practitioner and less on the so-called “law and …” classes (e.g. law and politics, law and literature). Most students come out of law school with almost no specific idea of either what they want to practice or how practice looks in…practice. This needs to change.
Before I move on, I wanted to mention one other change I would make to law school. I didn’t devote as much time to it because it technically isn’t a change to law school itself. But I would enforce stricter standards on existing law schools in terms of bar passage rates and admission metrics. There are simply too many bad schools. Many, many students from sub-par law schools find themselves out of a job and in debt. I know of only two schools that have lost accreditation, and many more are deserving. More needs to be done.
3. Lobby for Expanded 3L Hiring
As I’m sure most of you know, the vast majority of hiring takes place after the first year of law school (or 1L), shortly before a student’s second (or 2L) year. This puts a tremendous amount of emphasis on a student’s first two semesters’ worth of grades. Unfortunately, those grades often fail to reflect a student’s true ability. Often, once a student becomes familiar with the way law school works, grades improve dramatically (although this can also be a function of less rigorous grade curving during the second and third years). However, a below-median student may not get another real bite at the apple when it comes to firm hiring. A lot of schools have on-campus interviews for upperclassmen, but the opportunities are far more limited. Students and faculty should work together to change the hiring process so that the undue emphasis on first year grades is less likely to limit students’ opportunities unfairly.
So, there you have it, my laundry list of changes that I’d like to see. Some of these, sadly, are more realistic than others. But the current system has serious flaws that need to be addressed, and I hope the recent change to arbitration agreements is a sign of more reforms to come.