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September 10, 2014


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Former Editor

I think you left out this part:

Yet, even as what was taught in golf schools became more and more divorced from the game, the number of golf schools proliferated. More and more prospective golfers were introduced to the game each year. Soon, the number of new golfers exceeded the number of open spots on golf teams. To make matters worse, the cost of membership in most country clubs went up dramatically. Other than at a few public courses, tee times became so expensive that only those who made a team after they finished golf school, and could split the cost among all of the specialists, could afford to play. This left many new golfers, fresh from the putting green, not only unable to play but out the (nonrefundable) cost of the lessons and their clubs.

Leonard Hofstetler

I learned to swim on the internet.


The American Golf Association is clearly not doing its job if it allows unmanned drones to compete in golf tournaments.


The golf schools also were not taught by the golf pros; rather, they were taught by middle aged individuals who grew up in the beginnings of the golf specialization movement and often spent two hole years working on sandtrap discovery before joining the golf school faculty to teach the philosophy of putting. ("Be the ball, Danny.")

Pedagogy and success within the law school focused more and more on publication in golf school journals, which though generally available were rarely read by golfers. Instead, they focused their attention on the scholarly pursuit of often overlooked minutiae of putting. For example, one duffer was considered a star for churning out four tomes in the last decade on grass type, length and cut, including the interdisciplinary sensation, "Leaves of Featherbed Bent Grass: Walt Whitman and the modern rules of golf."

Orin Kerr

"This was odd, because dozens of articles were written by concerned golf instructors and professional golfers that agreed on one thing – golf students were graduating unprepared for the modern game of golf. It got to the point where recent graduates were having a hard time getting jobs as golfers, and if they did get jobs their time was not billable."

But how many people think that the way law is taught is a major factor in whether graduates can find high-paying jobs? Most legal academics think that law schools don't create strong demand for legal services; rather, cients do. Further, the schools are in intense competition with each other to have better employment outcomes for their graduates than other schools. The law school curriculum is mostly elective, with schools offering dozens or hundreds of diverse course offerings ranging from theory to practice to clinics to externships to lectures to socratic classes on an incredible range of topics, covering nearly every subject area imaginable and taught in a wide range of teaching styles and methods.

If there were reason to believe that the curriculum or teaching styles made a notable difference in job outcomes a way that could be replicated across the curriculum in a non-cost-prohibitive way, you would expect schools to rush towards reforms that could capture them to boost their U.S. News numbers. They're not doing so because most think that the problem is the lack of jobs that the market is producing, not the inability of law schools to produce graduates who can do high-paying jobs that are going unfilled. Some disagree, of course, and some have written law review articles offering their views. But I don't think those articles constitute a consensus among "experts" that a particular change is necessary.

Or at least that's how it looks to me -- Ray, I hope you'll respond.

John Steele

I agree that the main problem isn't the curriculum but is rather a combination of a long economic trough, the increasingly porous nature of our professional boundaries, and over-production of JDs. Still, law school curricula haven't helped.

"Further, the schools are in intense competition with each other to have better employment outcomes for their graduates than other schools."

I may be wrong about this, but I thought that US News has heavily weighed employment outcomes only recently and that it really shook up the ratings (especially for under-performing California schools) in the last cycle or so. And we've only recently entered an era when the schools' own stats have been reasonably transparent and accurate -- thanks almost entirely to outside forces like LST, tort lawyers, and the ABA's belated decision to lead from behind. Have we had enough time for those developments to drive curricular changes across the 200 law schools?

"If there were reason to believe that the curriculum or teaching styles made a notable difference in job outcomes a way that could be replicated across the curriculum in a non-cost-prohibitive way, you would expect schools to rush towards reforms that could capture them to boost their U.S. News numbers."

Again, I could be wrong about this, but for me that form of argument has its greatest appeal in markets that have shown themselves to be nimbly responsive to market forces. Is that really how law school faculties behave? I see a huge agency problem on this issue. I assume that most schools will hunker down and do what they can to preserve their ability to keep doing what they've been doing in the past, which is what they personally prefer doing. Now that enrollment has dropped deeply, schools may soon be able to go back to business as normal. Indeed, some law professors are already proclaiming that the crisis of bad employment outcomes has effectively passed.

Orin Kerr

John, I'm not sure we disagree all that much, so here's a way to focus the question more closely on the main post: What is the alleged reform that experts agree is the way to get graduates high-paying jobs but that schools are oddly ignoring?

Former Editor

That's not really how I read that part of the main post. I thought the point trying to be made there was not that there is some particular reform that faculties agree on, but that law faculties agree that students are not graduating "practice ready" (whatever that means) and there hasn't been much curricular change, even in the form of differing approaches, regardless of that agreement.

John Steele

Orin, I (like you?) disagree with what I take to be the implied suggestion of the post, namely, that a better curriculum will have a big impact on hiring. The point of my comment is to suggest that curriculum reform will likely be incremental at best anyway (and certainly not self-correcting in a market sense), given the interests and the power of the faculty.

As for the curricular changes I'd make if I had a free hand, my suggestion would be to have students listen to a wide variety of people (hiring partners, alums, solos, judges, clients, in-house GCs, professors, etc.) and then tell the school what courses they want to take over the next 2-4 semesters. At that point, the school does what it can to fill the demand or at least meets the students halfway.

Ray Campbell

I didn't mean the post to be a screed about jobs. I meant it to be the opening salvo in a discussion about what methodologies, besides the methodology of legal analysis that goes by the name of 'thinking like a lawyer,' are out there that lawyers need, use and can be taught in school. Put differently, what are the other clubs that a young golfer ought to have in the golf bag and know how to use before going out on the course? I'll get to that in a later post, but let me say now, I think identifying the occupation specific methodologies is a deceptively hard question.

As for the job outcomes, I find myself agreeing with both Orin and John, who do seem to be generally on the same page, but I think it does depend a lot on context. In the overall economy, obviously demand matters. You can run the best school in the world for Roman charioteers and demand will still be limited. Next to that, there is the issue of filtering - when I was on a big law firm hiring committee, I kept hearing the tale about the basketball coach whose recruiting philosophy was "you can't coach height." They've been running this interesting experiment in New Haven for a while that shows if you bring in students who score really well on the LSAT and who have shown themselves capable of high achievement in undergrad, and let them study whatever they want for three years, they can all get jobs as lawyers when they graduate. When you get to the less elite schools, I think that immediate usefulness on the job does shift employment outcomes (although not necessarily to the most elite jobs, due to filtering), and I think that some of the less elite schools do work hard at equipping students with what they need to do real work on day one.

That said, I think if we could identify at least some of the core methodologies successful lawyers use, and equip students with them before they leave school, it would be a good thing.

As for why law schools don't change, that's where it gets particularly interesting to me, and there will be more on that later as well. I think it has more to do with why DEC never figured out how to sell personal computers than with agency issues, although that may be an additional factor. That people are conscientiously doing the right thing as they see it does not mean they've adjusted successfully to changing circumstances.

Scott Fruehwald

Teaching students to be fully prepared for the jobs they will do is important, even if it doesn't create more jobs. Would you go to a doctor who has never seen a patient? Would you want driver's education to just consist of classroom instruction?

No, breh.

"Happy, the ball has its own energy or life force, if you will. Its natural environment is in the hole. Why don’t you send him home? His bags are packed. He has his plane ticket. Bring him to the airport. Send him home. Send him home."

-Prof. Gary Potter

John Steele

Scott, are law schools really equipped to make students "fully prepared for the jobs they will do"? It seems to me that neither the teachers nor the format are well suited for that -- particularly for the transactional jobs. And for every professor who believes that preparing students means stressing practical skills there is another professor who believes that it means the development of abstract thinking. I can't imagine the circumstances under which faculty could ever come to a consensus on that.

So, why not let that decision be made for the most part by the people who are taking on the debt and forgoing three years of income? Students should have far more control over the human capital they develop during their six semesters in school. I'm sure lots of them would choose practical training and that lots of them would choose more abstract courses too. Let them decide in their own best interests.

Scott Fruehwald

"Scott, are law schools really equipped to make students 'fully prepared for the jobs' they will do?"
To be first year attorneys, yes. I did not mean to suggest that law schools can turn out graduates who are like attorneys with five years of experience.

Turning out abstract thinkers and turning out practicing attorneys are not mutually exclusive. An attorney has to understand doctrine to be able to draft a contract. Wouldn't an attorney who could draft a contract understand contract doctrine better than an attorney who just learned the doctrine?

I am one of the editors of the Legal Skills Prof Blog. Tomorrow, I am featuring an article by an adjunct at the University of Colorado who teaches a hands-on real estate course. Do you think a purely theoretical course on real estate would be better than the one he describes in the article?

John Steele

Scott, I know which course I would take, given the choice. (Then again, I would also take that famous course on blood feuds in Icelandic sagas. Sounds like a lot of fun to me.)

But why not let the students decide that? My guess is that students at schools like U-Colorado, if given the choice, would dramatically change the curriculum. Maybe not. If you wait for faculty to forge a consensus like your views, you will be waiting forever. If you shift the debate to student choice, you might have a fighting chance at some change. Just my two cents.

Don Haycraft

And the golf schools shunned actual pro golfers joining the golf faculty. Only the best putters who just graduated are recruited to the faculty. Sometimes the schools hire a fantastic putter who caddied for perhaps two years for actual golf pros in actual golf tournements. But these applicants for faculty positions found the tournaments way too intense with the golfers themselves having to compete to even make the cut at each and every tournament. No gimmees like tenure.

Chris Osborn

As someone who transitioned relatively recently into academia from full time practice, I love this metaphor and the whole thought experiment it suggests, and think it is spot-on in many ways. I would take the point perhaps a bit further and suggest that such a radical change of "how the game is played" is taking place that law schools not only cannot keep teaching the same-old-thing in the same-old-ways, but we also cannot keep measuring outcomes in the same old ways. Thus, I would suggest that before we begin to assess whether "curriculum or teaching styles make a notable difference in job outcomes" we need to have a more honest and thorough discussion regarding what kind of outcomes are reasonable to expect, given the current state of the market for legal services. Only once we know what we are truly aiming for (in terms of what a newly minted JD-holder should look like) can we determine whether what we are doing will get us there (and what we need to do differently if not).

It is great that U.S. News has begun to take note of employment statistics, and the push for more accuracy and transparency in how employment data is gathered, categorized, and reported is long overdue. But even as these changes take place, there remains room for adjustment even of the nomenclature that we use and the expectations that we set for entering students. (Even Orin Kerr's comment referring to "the way to get graduates high paying jobs" I would say illustrates the issue I am addressing.) The $160K-per year associate position at a big national firm is not only less readily available in the current market, but let's not forget that such a job has to a large extent been debunked as being the pinnacle of (let alone necessarily even a good starting place for) a legal career. (The bemoaning of the loss of those kinds of jobs has, in my mind, become a bit comical--especially given the incredibly high rate of turnover in such positions, and in light of research by Larry Krieger at FSU demonstrating the negative correlation of happiness with super-high compensation.) Just because it is relatively easy to track how many grads go to large firms (through NALP, etc.) doesn't mean that it is the best measure we can employ, or even that tells us much of anything about the vast majority of law graduates.

The reality is that a greater number of grads than ever are going to end up launching solo firms or joining or launching small practices; others may launch legal services start-ups, or new non-profits and small businesses. Some of that will be by necessity (other options not being available), but we must not forget that for some of those (perhaps it might be worthwhile to start trying to measure how many?), that might be exactly what they wanted from the start when they entered law school. I take no position on whether this is an inherently good or bad development, except to note that if it remains true that individuals and small businesses in the lower-middle class (the working poor) still have inadequate access to affordable basic legal services, well, it could be a great thing.

The hard truth that the legal profession is perhaps having difficulty swallowing is that it may well become on the whole less economically advantageous to be a lawyer than it previously has been. But a starting salary is only one dimension, at best, of assessing whether there are too many law schools, and (more to the point of the golf metaphor) it really functions to some extent independently of a qualitative analysis of the practical value of a legal education. (Now of course much of the current debate involves assessing where the decline in lawyer income runs headlong into the increase in student debt load, and becomes unsustainable, individually and at a macro level. I leave that important question for another day and time to return to my original point.)

In light of the way the game is changing, the emphasis on producing grads who are as practice-ready as possible (allowing that there may be some lessons that only actual experience can teach) becomes even more significant. If, indeed, we are educating attorneys who, instead of joining the Cravaths and MoFos of the world, or going in house with GE, might instead be hanging out shingles in their hometowns or starting non-profits or helping launch socially responsible businesses, then how can we in the legal academy not do everything within our power to equip those folks as best possible? And that means getting our students as much time as possible on the driving range, at a minimum--and getting them out there on the links with the current pros (at both the coutry clubs and the municipal courses) wherever we can. It also means that CLE regulators and law schools alike might need to temper their traditional disdain for "law practice management" courses, and instead make them a recognized fundamental part of a solid and thorough legal education. And it means we might also want to teach our students about more than just the game of golf, but how to conduct themselves in the game of life itself (which may be just as fraught with sandtraps and water hazards, so to speak) without getting sucked underwater.

Fortunately, there are curricular reforms afoot that are addressing these very core competencies; let's hope that such endeavors get a chance to flourish and develop, rather than being dismissed as somehow "beneath" the essence of the great game the way it has always been played.

Scott Fruehwald

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post stating that students should take all the skills courses they can to show their law schools that they wanted skills courses. I received a couple of emails from students telling me that there weren't enough skills courses to take at their law schools; the courses were already fully booked.

Have you seen Neil Hamilton's articles on what legal employers want? You can find them on his SSRN page.

What about all the studies by the ABA Task Force, the NYC Bar, the Illinois Bar, the California Bar, CLEA, etc., that say that law students need more skills courses?

Scott Fruehwald

Finally, students want a practical legal education.

"Recent survey of pre-law students finds that nearly 80% want legal education to be more practical."

By Legal Skills Prof

That's according to a survey in June (2013) of 750 prospective law students who took Kaplan Test Prep's LSAT course. The same survey also showed that more than half of those students contemplating law school plan to use their J.D. in a "non-traditional" legal field. The National Jurist's preLaw blog has the story:

Pre-law students want legal education to change

The vast majority of prospective law students — 79 percent — believe law schools need to make changes to better prepare students to practice in the current employment market, according to a survey by Kaplan Test Prep.

“We think these results are showing students are indeed being much more introspective about their decision to go,” said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s director of pre-law programs. “They’re making the decision to go to law school very purposefully and deliberately after doing the research, and students are recognizing, ‘listen, I want to go to law school but once I get there it’s got to be different than what the kids that went five years ago did.’”

. . . .

The survey also shows that more students are considering non-traditional employment — 56 percent plan to use their future law school degree in a non-traditional legal field. That is up from 50 percent in February.

“This is a continual evolution where we’re seeing greater and greater and greater numbers of students who are thinking that big law private practice is not necessarily the right fit for them from the get-go,” Thomas said.

. . . .

Kaplan surveyed 750 students who recently took a LSAT Kaplan Prep Course. The online survey was conducted in June 2013. Kaplan, which routinely surveys pre-law students, offered the surveys to help pre-law students understand the challenging landscape that law students face.

Click here to read the full article.

(jbl). at


Orin Kerr: " Further, the schools are in intense competition with each other to have better employment outcomes for their graduates than other schools. "

There are some schools, whose names I will not mention, which have tuition running from $40-$50K per year, and employment rates at 9 months ~35%. If those schools' faculty and administrations are even thinking about increasing employability, there is no sign of it. They seem to spend more time BS-ing everybody, and until now, that has probably been a successful strategy.

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