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January 13, 2011

Bruce Antkowiak: "Why Law Schools Must Reform".

Law firms cannot be expected to do 95% of the work of lawyer-building. In that regime, clients suffer the most.

The U.S. Law Degree: As immediately useful as "a Ph.d in Poetry"? Bruce Antkowiak, a storied Pennsylvania defense trial lawyer, ex-DOJ section chief and 1977 Harvard Law grad, is now a full-time law professor at Duquesne University. This op-ed piece, "Law Schools Must Reform", appeared last week in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette. Antkowiak's article is subtitled: "They need to leave the ivory tower--and teach practical lawyering."

Antkowiak's piece is at once both an important call to arms and, frankly, a modest proposal. In addition to making law firms truly efficient, could we ask law schools to perform even minimally and produce something of value? I.e., What are you folks really accomplishing in those 3 years, anyway? We practitioners don't get it. You are making things not only frustrating--but very very expensive. Clients suffer the most.

Can you help even a little? Step up? Firms will train. But we cannot be expected to do 95% of the work of lawyer-building.

Question: What can schools do to prepare students for the day-to-day world of work and commerce?

Excerpts from Antkowiak:

You would think that law schools would make fundamental changes to their programs in the wake of the job crisis, fearing that law degrees might someday be assessed like a Ph.D. in poetry -- soul-satisfying but potentially impractical. A few have responded dramatically, but most have held fast to the traditional law school model or made superficial changes. Why the resistance?

For many law schools, their institutional identity dictates that they be largely disconnected from the practice of law. This is done (I suppose) in the belief that we "in the academy" will thereby establish ourselves as an intellectual elite worthy of praise for the intricacy of our philosophical analysis.

The crisis in the law job market has not occurred because the world has miraculously become such an inherently just place that lawyers are no longer needed. The cries for justice remain as loud as ever. You can hear them no matter how high your ivory tower may rise.

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Posted by JD Hull at January 13, 2011 11:59 PM


There is a ring of "this is someone else's problem to fix!"

If firms are not happy with the law grads comming out of law schools then why not simply set up some sort of vocational law college and hire from there thus fixing the problem of highly book smart kids suddenly finding themselves swimming with sharks and solving the firm's problem of having to resuce highly booksmart people from being eaten by sharks.

I'm not sure if you are not contradicting your own advice by not attempting to fix the problem at source.

(admittedly I have glossed over a lot of steps and made this fix sound a lot more simple than I anticipate it is but BPP in the UK was set up for pretty much the same reason)

Posted by: Ducan King at January 13, 2011 11:12 AM


You are right. And fair enough.

But you've read this site. You need a mix of things. And you need at least 2 things:

(a) More efficient law firm models with MUCH more focus on customers--not on insular-thinking lawyers, their happiness and their convenience, and

(b) A less hopelessly Wanked-Out Law School model (i.e., in U.S., reduce law school to 18 months followed by apprenticeship).

Posted by: Hull at January 13, 2011 11:35 AM

(a) I'm begining to think this is a bigger issue and not a law firm 'only' issue. The entire court system is set up for the convenience of those working in the court rather than the user.

(b) Yes, but there is a lot of money flowing into the current system and no incentive for those who it currently favours, i.e. professors and Deans who think the law degree is a cash cow, to change anything. If there was a competitor whose focus was making customer focused lawyers rather than book smart kids who are convinced they are actually worth £100,000 a year that was preferred graduate supplier to a number of firms things might change.

But as it stands I don't see any venerable institution breaking away from the pack.

Posted by: Ducan King at January 13, 2011 11:50 AM

Yes, sir. Courts, too. And how about a "customer service" revolt generally?

"Book smart kids" with law degrees are very expensive and, frankly, almost completely worthless these days. My cats and dogs at the San Diego house have more courage, character and resourcefulness than what we are seeing in the market. A good paralegal shames them in problem-solving and attitude. Harvard. Hastings. Oxford. Night School. Nearly all are severely limited (if not crippled)--and they don't even suspect it in themselves. It's an "inside" thing.

Whatever it is, it greatly threatens clients and customers.

That's a 4th but much-discussed issue: the emerging pattern--a strong one--of bright kids who cannot work, handle adversity or learn to like complexity.

Posted by: Hull at January 13, 2011 12:01 PM

reduce law school to 18 months---be serious

in the mid 1700's Thomas Jefferson course of study at the College lasted for two years, and he then went on to read law for the next five years under George Wythe

Jefferson had more talent and a lot less law to learn

if one were interested in serious reform look at all the waste in faculty writing. Article after article written for no one (go on SSRN where the number of downloads are given). How long as it been since a tenured faculty member wrote a meaningful review of one state's tort law, for example. 50 years

If your practice is like mine, you still have your general texts and hornbooks from 30/40 years ago.

You pull them out, find the law, and then search of the state specific rule because there is no "Prosser" for New Mexico or Calamari and Perillo on contracts. What a waste of time. In Texas at least they have OConners.

I have only ever known of one truly great law teacher. Many years ago a good friend took fir year torts under Robert Leflar at the University of Arkansas. Leflar used the standard text and the Socratic method, but at the end of every class he handed out all the Arkansas specific cases, pleadings, jury instructions, discovery forms, rule of evidence on experts, etc.

As a result, when a student finished the class, in their notebooks, they had all the structure they need to do either plaintiff or defense personal injury work. If you had more than one defendant, it was covered. How to plead contributory fault and assumption of the risk was covered.

This takes a lot of work on the part of the faculty and there is the rub. Tenure means they get to do what they want, not what they should do.

Posted by: Moe Levine at January 13, 2011 09:07 PM

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