I enjoyed law school as much as I enjoyed the preparation for my colonoscopy, it was that good. My time at the American University Washington College of Law (WCL) wasn’t a great experience because I felt like I was hoodwinked into going and was promised a bill of goods that they failed to deliver.
I didn’t get mad, I got even using my year as the Executive Editor of their student newsmagazine to blast the school and offer suggestions on how to improve it. Of course, they waited until after I graduated to implement those changes so that the Dean, Claudio Grossman could take credit for it.
Time hasn’t been kind to my waistline and WCL. When I was there, they were in the old building, which was tiny, and they claimed all these great things would happen when we moved to the new building in 1996. They said we’d be a top 50 law school after we moved and they did after I graduated for a couple of years. Now that new building is now the old building as for some strange reason, WCL needed a newer building on the Tenley Campus. It’s crazy to think that our new building had a shorter lifespan as the law school building than the lifespan of Turner Field and the Miami Arena. So the new building didn’t help much because WCL is now ranked #78, tied with the UNLV law school that is actually younger that the law school building we moved into, in 1996. WCL’s biggest problem is that it’s the #3 law school in a two-law school town (Washington D.C.). The fact that it’s the People’s Republic of WCL and the faculty has zero respect for any law student to the right of Bernie Sanders doesn’t help either.
I reached out to Dean Grossman with some suggestions on how to improve the law school and he kind of blew me off with an email. I even reached out to the new Dean and she didn’t bother to respond to me. So I will use this article to describe how to improve law schools in general with the idea of improving a school that really needs the help, like WCL. Yale and Harvard don’t need my help.
The problem with law school isn’t that it doesn’t train law students to be lawyers. That first year does a great job of educating law students on how to think like a lawyer, but does nothing else. For me, law school is 18 months of learning and 18 months of just waiting to graduate.
Some people suggest that law school should be cut to 2 years, but there’s as much chance as peace between Donald Trump and Rosie O’Donnell. Law school is big business for institutions of higher learning, they would never allow to cut 1/3 of the time to get a law degree, which means cutting their cut of 1/3 of tuition, and cutting 1/3 of their law school faculty especially when tuition is hovering at the $75,000 to $80,000 a year clip. The American Bar Association that accredits law schools wouldn’t support it both because they are made up of lawyers who had to complete 3 years of law school and lawyers tend to not be empathetic for law students.
So what to do? Turn that final year of law school to be a practical component. Offer externships where law students could work for solo practitioners or small to medium sized law firms for practical experience. I’m sure the smaller practices would love the free help and the law schools could collect tuition for credits where they don’t need to have a class section for. Make another semester of Legal Methods to be required for the final 18 months of law school. Instead of learning how to write the way Legal Methods was for that first year of law school, how about a Legal Methods course dealing with job seeking skills and writing skills a first year associate may need. Heck if I knew that networking was such an important job skill; I would have developed a personality a lot sooner. They need to offer more opportunities for clinics where law school students can represent indigent clients in business matters such as tax and business law. WCL was well known for their clinics, if you were lucky to get a spot. I didn’t make their tax clinic because my name wasn’t picked out of a hat and I’m not kidding, the law professor overseeing the tax clinic picked names out of a hat for clinic slots.
Law school needs to stop pretending they are selling some law experience out of The Paper Chase and that they are in the business of training lawyers so they can get jobs. I’m glad law school professors have such a love of the law that they teach and have tenure. Most of us practicing law in the “real world” don’t have that luxury; it’s hit a certain billable hour requirement or brief requirement or die. Like with other institutions of higher learning, I believe that law schools will be under pressure because if there continues to be limited job prospects for law school graduates after going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, potential law school students may opt for other graduate programs with better job prospects. Decreased enrollment means decreased tuition receipts and decreased law school faculties.
When I was at WCL, all you would hear was that the way things are done is because it’s always been done that way. Well what if what was being done was incorrect? What worked well in the 1960’s and the 1860’s may not be relevant today. If law schools continue to charge hundreds of thousands of dollars and fail to properly train law students to become employed lawyers, it’s inevitable that there will be a day of reckoning. The law school bubble won’t be as dangerous as the real estate bubble, but it won’t be good for anyone working at a law school.