Legal Education: A Products Liability Approach

As lawyers, we have all been consumers of one common product: law school.  We know some attorneys who truly loved law school; we certainly know a number of others who detested it.  Interestingly enough, in our experience, a lawyer’s love or hate of law school has no bearing on whether or not he or she enjoys the actual practice of law. Why do we bring that up today? We here at Abnormal Use focus on products: their design, implementation, cost, and, sometimes, better alternatives.  This week, in a series of posts by our own Frances Zacher, we plan to scrutinize the law school formula as a product in the same fashion and debate the following questions:

Is law school defectively designed? Nearly early American lawyer practicing today is the product of a very traditional three year curriculum, from the first year Socratic method and standard set of classes focusing on the jurisprudence of no jurisdiction in particular, to a second year full of law journal responsibilities and moot court competitions, to a third year during which most students spend more time in job interviews, golf courses, and bars than in the law school classroom or the library.  Is there a better way?  Would a different model better prepare us for the practice of law itself?  We will talk to a few commentators who have attempted to address these issues at their own law schools.

Warning:  Your legal education may not be worth the price. Currently brewing in higher education and legal education is a huge debate centered squarely on the issue of return on investment.  What disclosures should law schools make to prospective students about job placement percentages, starting salaries, and the quantitative and qualitative value of a legal education from a particular institution?  Lawsuits are popping up all over the country over these very issues, and we will explore their merits and debate the issues that underlie them.

What is the appropriate remedy? If law school is defectively designed, or if the warnings are not sufficient for law school, what should be the remedy?  Plaintiffs suing law schools – and in some cases, the law schools themselves – are exploring a few different potential remedies, from tuition reimbursement to extra classes for free.  Are any of these remedies adequate?

By taking a products liability approach to these questions, we hope to gain some insight into what exactly is behind these big debates in legal education today, and perhaps, glance into the future and explore what law school might look like in the near future.  We hope you’ll share your thoughts with us along the way.

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