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Judge Criticizes American Law Schools

A prominent federal judge has added to the growing chorus of criticism for American law schools and their failure to provide practical training for their students despite charging exorbitant tuition:

Judge José Cabranes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2d Circuit . . .noted that law schools are in "something of a crisis," given the skyrocketing cost of tuition, ever-higher graduate debts and a growing feeling that legal scholarship is of little use to the bench or practitioners. ...

To get back on track, law schools should shift their curricula back to core courses and away from the interdisciplinary classes that have grown in popularity, he said; they should introduce a two-year core law program followed by a yearlong apprenticeship, and increase transparency regarding costs, job prospects and financial aid information. ...

Cabranes lamented the move by law schools toward specialized, often interdisciplinary courses that can displace "black-letter" law courses — criminal and civil procedure, evidence and federal courts. He related a story about a friend's child who enrolled in a law school clinic focusing on housing court — but who had never taken a property law course. Core law courses should come before clinics and interdisciplinary work, even if the latter are more popular with students and faculty, he said. ...

Cabranas also offered a harsh assessment of the scholarship that legal educators are producing. He recalled recent criticism from several Supreme Court justices that the scholarship has left "terra firma" in favor of outer space. "Legal scholarship is a conversation among members of the academy with the rest of us reading — maybe," he said.

Cabranes also "condemned a growing 'cult of globalization," in which law schools focus on trendy international concerns, rather than give their students a "solid foundation in the law." An earlier news story in The New York Times described what a costly white elephant  law schools have become. Law school is expensive because of government-enforced accreditation standards that prevent law schools from containing costs even if they wanted to: "the lack of affordable law school options, scholars say, helps explain why so many Americans don't hire lawyers" when they genuinely need legal assistance or advice. Lawyers need to bring or work on big-ticket lawsuits -- even socially destructive lawsuits -- to pay off their student loans, instead of providing badly needed legal advice and assistance to people of modest means, who can pay less. (Certain types of lawsuits are favored by one-way fee-shifting statutes that encourage trial lawyers to bring those particular types of lawsuits, even when the entity being sued is probably innocent.)

In an earlier article, the Times reporter, David Segal, highlighted how law schools teach irrelevant legal theory, rather than providing practical training on how to be a lawyer.  Thus, new corporate-law associates at a prestigious law firm couldn't even answer the basic question "when you close a merger, how does the deal get done?" Law professors themselves lack practical knowledge: as the Times noted, "The essential how-tos of daily practice are a subject that many in the faculty know nothing about -- by design. One 2010 study of hiring at top-tier law schools since 2000 found that the median amount of practical experience was one year, and that nearly half of faculty members had never practiced law for a single day. If medical schools took the same approach, they'd be filled with professors who had never set foot in a hospital."

As I noted in The New York Times, "I learned about trendy ideological fads and feminist and Marxist legal theory while at Harvard Law School. But I did not learn many basic legal principles, such as in contract law and real estate law, until I took a commercial bar-exam preparation course after law school."

Thus, there is no reason to require people to attend law school before sitting for the bar exam. As law professor Paul Campos notes, legal education is a rip-off, since the typical law professor "knows nothing about being a lawyer. Hence, he must bullshit -- he does not lie to his students about how to be a lawyer (doing so would require him to know how to be a lawyer, while attempting to deceive his students regarding the substance of that knowledge); rather, he 'talks without knowing what he is talking about,'" when it comes to discussing the legal system or how to be a lawyer.

Law schools lie about whether graduates find jobs: two law schools are being sued for fraudulent placement data. Law schools have increased tuition by nearly 1,000 percent since 1960 in real terms.