Law Student as User

What is wrong with law school? small

Law students are known to complain a little about law school, but I’d like to capitalize on the complaints — they are essentially user needs ripe for research.

I sketched down some of the top complaints about law school that were made in a recent law class. They point to some main trends that stake out what might be redesigned in the law school experience. More user research is needed to uncover what the dynamics are beneath these complaints though.

I’m thinking whether we could do ‘exit interviews’ with law students who are emerging out of 3L, to go through some of their biggest problems with their school, and start pushing for what is going on underneath all these complaints:

  • What should be in 1L? What would the ideal curriculum be?
  • Were clinics actually worth the experience — what could have made them better?
  • What did you find later on in law school that you wish you knew earlier?
  • If you had a million dollars to donate to a law school, what would you have the school spend it on?
  • When have you gotten sufficient feedback in the law classroom? What feedback would you have liked?
  • How can students be diverted away from OCI, or at least how can students be presented with other career pathways early on in school?
  • How can students be given options to act on the ambitions they originally spelled out in their admission essay?


So in a different context I recently wrote:

“Here’s the way my mind is running: all the suggestions for how to better and more effectively train young lawyers; or the suggestion to do three years of college + three years of law; or four of college and two of law; or law as undergraduate degree plus apprenticeship; or to require the (already submerged in debt) kids to do _ hours of pro bono work? Great ideas. All of them. But that’s not where the problem is. It’s more in the fact that we have 200 law schools, all wanting to turn out Harvard type lawyers, all wanting to charge $40-50,000/year, and incapable of dealing with the reality that the need for lawyers so trained could probably be supplied by 40 or 50 schools. But para-lawyers in huge numbers could probably be supplied by good community colleges, or even high schools. And AI aided software could surely, in 10 years time, provide a very large range of “legal services”.

We are dealing with the problem of the buggy whip manufacturers’ association sitting at the entry gates. And for the life of me, I can’t think of a way of changing their thinking without the help of external force. For the debtor nations such as Ireland, Greece and Portugal, the EU, ECB and IMF can turn on the heat: reform your profession or we won’t fund you (and, btw, not sure how much that has worked). What do we do?”

Obviously, none of this detracts from the ongoing need to improve the current methods of teaching law. But I honestly believe the burning need is to figure out ways to deliver badly needed legal services — civil and criminal — free or at nominal cost.

If we want to tackle this problem — diversifying law schools, or providing multiple tracks to becoming legal professionals — I wonder who the main stakeholders are — and what arguments or incentives may be used to motivate change?

Is it the ABA & Bar Associations that would need to move first? Or university deans, faculties and provosts?

I wish my Reply wasn’t all in the form of questions, but with this challenge, it’s hard for me to unravel enough to see where a starting point could be…

You ask: “Is it the ABA & Bar Associations that would need to move first? Or university deans, faculties and provosts?” The answer probably is that *all* of them would have to move together, and one needs to add the Supreme Courts of the various states who have a rule-making voice as well.

Ain’t gonna happen.

So it may be that while adding pressure on all of these fronts is meritorious, raising a political ruckus might be the best hope. Perhaps the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau would take up the cudgels, or perhaps Justice’s Antitrust Division and the FTC could be persuaded to become more activist. They certainly know the issues; see their December 20, 2002 letter to the ABA’s Task Force on the Model Definition of the Practice of Law

I think one of the aspects of exorbitant legal costs that is often overlooked is the cost of legal research. It is incredible that in this age of incredible technological innovation that Westlaw and Lexis can charge users $20 per minute to use their service. Of course, this does not really address the problems inside of law schools. However, if legal research and access to common forms was less costly and less time-consuming, then perhaps the cost of legal services could be reduced.