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What Is Law School Designed to Do?

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. | Last updated on

"To train you to think like a lawyer."

That's probably the most common answer you would receive if you polled professors, administrators, and perhaps some recent graduates about what law school is designed to do. Two answers you probably won't get? "To help you pass the bar." (That's why after three years of school you need a whole other mini school to study for it.) And, "To train you to actually practice in the real world." (That's what summers and your first few years at a firm are for.)

So, given the time and expense involved with attending law school, it's fair to ask, "What's the point?" Especially when more elite law schools, as Mark Pulliam points out, could function more like trade schools, focusing more on practical legal training and less on legal scholarship that is "largely irrelevant to the needs of legal consumers like clients and practitioners."

The Problems

"The current model of high and rising tuition, mounting student debt loads, poor skills training, uneven (and uncertain) job placement, and an increasingly politicized professoriate thus perpetuates itself," Pulliam notes, as tenured law school faculty often focus more on their own researching and writing than that of their students. "The open secret is that elite law schools don’t see their mission as teaching the nuts and bolts of regular legal work."

Those nuts and bolts are left to adjuncts, clinical courses, or the offices that hire new graduates. And that doesn't even address bar prep, an absolute necessity for 90 percent of legal work. "But why are bar-review courses even necessary for students who just finished a three-year course of study in the law," asks Pulliam. "Isn't learning about the practice of law the raison d’être of legal education?"

A Solution

Pulliam points to Lincoln Memorial University's Duncan School of Law in Tennessee as a practical alternative to the "Ivory Tower ethos so common in academia." Just 10 years old, the fully ABA-accredited school focuses on skills-based instruction and practical learning, and seeks to train lawyers to serve the most common legal needs of regular people. In that way LMU's law school functions more like a trade apprenticeship, and for far less in annual tuition:

The practice of law mainly consists of helping ordinary people solve their legal problems, such as family-law disputes, defending criminal charges, or creating a will. Lawyering is in many respects a trade -- like being a plumber, electrician, mechanic, or welder. LMU’s law school acknowledges this reality.

Whether elite law schools -- and the professors that teach there and the students seeking their degrees -- agree with that sentiment is an entirely different matter. After all, they're there to teach you how to think like a lawyer, not how to work like one.

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