Debate: Are Law Students Well Prepared for the Job Market?

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Our friends Carolyn Wise and Brian Dalton at Vault.com had an interesting (if unintentional) debate this week about the preparedness of law school grads for the legal job market. We’ve re-posted with their permission.

Carolyn Wise:

Law students took a beating in a recent Chicago Lawyer roundtable of law school deans. It should come as no surprise that, because of the economy, students and soon-to-be graduates are having a ton of trouble finding legal jobs. To help, schools have started reaching out and looking into how to make their students better employees and, by extension, better candidates. This attention to employability was nearly unheard of back in 2007, but these days it’s getting much more attention from school administrators, including academic deans, who are incorporating new classes into the curriculum; and admissions officers, who look at each candidate and ask whether he will get a job after graduation. Confirms Warren D. Wolfson, interim dean of DePaul University College of Law:

Something else we’re looking at that I don’t think was looked at before is finding out from the law firms what kind of graduate do you want? What kind of new lawyer would best serve your purposes? Do you want someone who can write well? Do you want someone who can do research? Or do you want someone who can recognize clients’ problems and deal with those problems right away, without taking extensive training? We’re trying to find out what the market is calling for, and I don’t think we ever cared much about that before.

So what do graduating law students lack? Writing, teamwork and analytical skills, says John Marshall Law School Dean John E. Corkery. This all brings up the age-old debate: Since they know what their graduates lack, should law schools focus more on teaching the skills employers want? Should they teach less theory and more nuts and bolts of practicing? Yes and no. But a balance certainly needs to be reached so that students are both engaged and employable.

Michael H. Schill, dean of University of Chicago Law School, suggests that law schools look to business schools to learn how to balance teaching theory with skills like how to work in groups. “On the other hand, I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game,” says Schill. “We can open up and teach our students about business skills in general, and also about how one works with clients, how one works with other lawyers and business people.”

So a balance can be reached. Law schools are listening to the needs of law firms and focusing on their students post-graduation success–while still trying to stay true to jurisprudence. I hope whatever classes or programs law schools add help their students find jobs in this job market. It isn’t pretty; soon-to-be JDs can use all the help they can get.

Brian Dalton:

At The Lawyerist, a tech entrepreneur sends a message of hope to newly minted lawyers facing a bleak job market. From a businessman’s perspective, law grads are “great hires”:

If you made it through three years of law school, you’re probably pretty smart, or at least know how to BS, which is one of life’s most critical skills. You’ve been tried and tested, and you’ve survived a competitive and difficult environment. Stick-to-it-iveness is hard to come by. You exhibit pragmatism, choosing a career which, at least when you signed up for school, offered a solid life plan for employment.

You know how to write. You’re a good communicator with a keen analytical mind. You can sift through mountains of information and pick out key pieces of salient details. In fact, you learned ideal high-level, general skills that can help you in any industry or business in the modern marketplace. We’re in an information age, and your training equipped you better than most on how to make decisions in an increasingly noisy and complicated world.

So, what does everyone think? Are law school grads well prepared for the real world? Sound off in the comments.

One Response

  1. JT says:

    There’s an inherent danger here regarding debt that I think is being overlooked. Whether or not a law degree prepares you well for jobs other than being a lawyer (and my instinct is that it probably does), it’s not clear that these other jobs will enable law students to get out from under their law school debt.

    For instance, a JD might benefit you as a high school teacher since you’re better able to analyze problems and think critically in general. But if you’re graduating with the average 80K in debt, a teaching salary isn’t going to cut it.

    The relevant question might not be “Are law school graduates good hires outside of law” but rather “Can they afford to take jobs outside of law?”

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