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February 05, 2015


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"This short paper provides an empirical examination of the link between law school experiential (or "skills") learning opportunities and JD employment outcomes."

Not really. Just clinics. Skills training is much broader. If the author does not think he can accurately measure all skills training, that's fine, but don't claim that you are in your abstract.

Michael Risch

A good point. I looked up our 509 statement because I was surprised by our low clinic/enrollment ration, which is now higher. I was pretty surprised by how many externships I saw.

Ben Barros

I'd be interested in data on the relationship between externships and employment outcomes. An externship (a) gives the student something to put on the resume, (b) develops the student's skills, (c) exposes the student to a potential employer, and (d) develops the student's network. Clinics do (a) and (b), but not (c) and (d). I think that the pedagogical experience is better with clinics, and that employers should often value clinical experience more than externship experience. I'm not sure, though, that employers in fact value clinical experience as much as perhaps they should.

Jamie Baker Roskie

This is why I think it's a bad idea to focus on clinics as a direct cause of better employment numbers. It's shortsighted, although understandable from a budgetary perspective. But to me, as a former clinician, the real issue is that we are failing to train good lawyers. This creates a crisis in access to justice and client service. That's why clinics are important. As a profession we need to move away from this ridiculous outdated model of "let's try to get all our graduates jobs in prestigious firms." We're so far past that - our graduates are leaving the practice of law altogether (if they even start there) and meanwhile there's a huge crisis out there in terms of clients being able to access services. The discussion needs to be much much broader.

Derek Tokaz

"But I've long believed that hiring is based on market conditions and little else."

I assume by "market conditions" you mean largely the volume or work available. If a firm of 5 people has 10,000 hours of work available, they won't hire anyone new. If they have 12,000 hours of work, they will hire someone new. I suspect this tells most of the story, but not all of it.

You have to consider that the firm has an additional option to hiring a new attorney; it can have its current staff work longer hours. In deciding between hiring a new lawyer or spreading the extra work among current staff, it's entirely likely that the firm will consider the quality of the prospective new hire.

If the new hire works 2000 hours, and produces 1500 hours of work the client will pay for, then he might be worth it. In a year or two he'll be up to par efficiency. But, if he works 2000 hours and only produces 800 hours of work the client will pay for, maybe the firm decides he's not worth it (especially true if he is making the other attorneys less efficient as well).

On an industry-wide scale, it also makes sense that as the quality of legal services goes up, the demand for legal services will also rise. There's lots of things people can do without an attorney, like write a will, write a contract, incorporate a business, and represent themselves in small civil suits and minor criminal trials. Of course, they're not likely to do these things very well, but they're making a cost/benefit decision. I might pay $1000 for an excellent lawyer to write a great contract, but I won't pay $1000 for a mediocre lawyer to write a contract that's only marginally better than what I can do on my own. I might not even pay $100 for that service.

Michael Risch

Yes, that's broadly defined - it depends on location, changes in client needs, changes in workload, changes in lateral markets, changes in technology, etc. All exogenous factors in the market.


Just to add to the main post of the post: if there's one school that has an excellent reputation for "practical skills" of various types, its CUNY. And CUNY's employment statistics are about what you would expect from a middle-of-the-pack school in NYC: no worse, but no better either.


There are plenty of schools with practical skills reputations and some have employment stats that significantly exceed their overall rank. Many intertwined variables.


I agree with Jamie Roskie above.

Graduation from an elite law school is of course a benefit to hiring in BigLaw firms, yet, this is not a significant enough slice of the market to merit the attention it gets. The legal academy, top to bottom, is fixated on the wrong ideal.

Moreover, it is not prestige schools that are suffering with declining enrollments, leading to plummeting LSAT/GPA profiles, falling bar pass rates, etc. Elite schools can, if they choose, maintain their isolation from practice and practical aspects of the law, though the law school academy would benefit perhaps from their leadership (think Prosser, Williston, etc.).

The problem is acute in the lower segments of the law school community. Ironically, if law school critics and the elite law school academicians agree (expressly or de facto) that these schools should simply go away, then the only hope to better the outcomes for graduates of these schools will reside in the faculty at these schools realizing that they can and should and would do better by not necessarily emulating the elite law schools and aiming to prepare students for BigLaw positions.

Pointing to the failure of clinics to improve employment outcomes, if indeed there has been any such failure, does not resolve this issue of possible improvement; any such observation is not a solution, but presents a question about how to develop better alternatives.

No, breh.

anon 3:59 -- not sure if absolute ranking is the right reference point in any event. real issue is regional legal jobs + regional ranking, at least outside of the T14 or T20 or so. just not enough national level law schools for absolute rank to be meaningful in this context i think.


I always figured the purpose of the "practice ready" movement was to throw a bit of squid ink on the employment concerns. Does anything think the school's really believed that it would bolster hiring? Rather, schools had to make it sound like they were doing something to address the employment problem so that prospectives could at least rationalize that their fate might be different.

Michael Risch

Yes, JM, people think that honestly, whether rightly or wrongly. We hear it from hiring attorneys, big and small, that they would like the folks they hire to be better ready for them. And it's perfectly reasonable that they would say that: if they can get law schools to pay for practical training, then they don't have to.

This is why I would like to see more longitudinal data. The question is not whether practical skills increase hiring in the aggregate - which is unlikely given market forces (though it could displace some lateral hiring). The question is whether one school's increase in practical skills gives it an advantage it did not have over schools that did not increase them.


No, breh - agreed. Those would be some of the "many intertwined variables."


Suppose a trade school that is teaching students how to repair typewriters. This school includes a few "clinics" where students learn to do rudimentary work in connection repairing machines, but not necessarily typewriters, for a few hours per week over the period of a couple of months.

The instructors at this trade school once assisted someone who assisted someone else who actually knew how to type on a typewriter, but this was a long time ago. Most of these instructors haven't touched a typewriter in a long, long time. In fact, most hate the very idea of typing.

Most of the students at this school wish to find employment installing and repairing computers. Computer have keyboards, after all.

The trade school does a study, and finds that their clinical program isn't helping their grads find employment.

Of course, this thought experiment is flawed because the basic elements of law don't change as quickly as technology, and the very basic elements of law are taught in law school: contracts, torts, property, crimes, civil and criminal procedure. That is to say, law students learn to read the law with respect to the most basic elements of a law practice.

But, systems to deliver legal services can and do change. Legal needs can and do change. Legal procedures and processes are changing, and fast in some instances in keeping with technological improvements.

Yes, tenants will always need to resist eviction and students will always love to argue that their clients' premises are uninhabitable because of roaches, or the notice of eviction wasn't dated correctly, etc., and all that hasn't changed for a long long time. But most students will never make a living doing unlawful detainer work, and the scant "practice" and "skills" training associated with such work isn't very beneficial in the larger sense.

Externships are a better move in the right direction. Better yet, stop marginalizing (i.e. by marginalizing adjuncts, research and writing instructors and clinicians) and excluding (by way of hiring prejudices) practitioners in the academy. Legal academia has much to learn from them while promoting structural improvements in the legal system generally.

Michael Risch

anon at 5:53 - the beauty of thought experiments is that we can make up whatever thoughts we want to experiment with.

You make some pretty bold claims about a) what clinics teach, b) what graduates practice, and c) how one relates to the other.

I'll challenge you in three areas:
a) we have clinics in entrepreneurship, tax, immigration, health law, and other areas. Other schools have diverse clinics as well, but I don't know how diverse
b) graduates don't all practice corporate law; they go into a variety of legal fields, as well as in large firm, small, solo
c) I'm pretty sure that practicing oral argument in court on an unlawful detainer can help with skills arguing discovery motions and other types of court arguments. I'm also pretty sure that interviewing unlawful detainer clients can help with skills interviewing all sorts of clients. Now, maybe those things don't actually provide sufficient practice, but that's not what I hear you arguing.

I'll admit that my assertions are bold intuition and as unsupported by evidence as yours. I'll give mine better odds, because they are based on 15 years of practice teaching for about half that time. I also have the discussions with my own former clinic students to go on.

That said, I'm not a zealot. As I note in the post, I'm a skeptic, certainly about employment outcomes. I'd be interested in seeing evidence about the three points above so we can discuss the merits of your assertions.



I certainly didn't intend to suggest that clinics only involve eviction defense: perhaps the comment could be read that way. The topics you mention are irrefutably also included in the clinical education at a number of law schools. The relevance of these topics to employment outcomes seems to be the subject of the Yackee paper, and I would have no basis to dispute that these clinical experiences, although fun and more lively and perhaps worthwhile is some sense, would not materially affect employment outcomes.

I also didn't mean to suggest that clinical education is not effective because it doesn't involve corporate law.

As for litigating a ud, ask anyone who makes a practice out of it (there actually are mills that do this). Firms will not be particularly impressed that a student spent a few hours a week at the housing clinic for a semester, nor should they be, and the study referenced above tends to support that. And this analysis would apply to most of the examples you cite.

Again, it is practitioners in the market for legal services OTHER THAN BIGLAW that need to be consulted here. If only! Lawyers may say that they want "practice ready" associates, but we all know, intuitively, that isn't possible. For one thing, students lack the maturity to practice on their own effectively, especially these days.

The law school academy simply needs to start thinking more about what it needs to do to improve the nature, quality and delivery of legal services, and the quality of adjudication and regulation our legal system affords the majority in this country. That will restore honor and respect and prestige for the right reasons. Watch the applications follow!

Michael Risch

Thanks for the clarification. I suspect we agree on more than we disagree.


This result should not be surprising, nor is it particularly novel. We have had some form of clinical education for nigh on 30 years now, and previous studies of employment outcomes (such as Wilkins & Dinovitzer's 10 year look at the NALP data) suggest that employers do not select for students in clinics. Within a given law school, employers (even small firm or solo employers) look for grades (and law review participation as a proxy for grades) above all else. Among law schools, ranking (or "prestige" as it is listed here) still has the biggest explanatory factor in terms of hiring differentials.

Law has always been an apprenticeship profession, and the idea of "practice ready" law students in the sense of being able to produce mostly billable work on the first day, has never, ever been the case. Law firms, big and small, have always taken on new associates who have been trained in the law school model (thinking like a lawyer, or at least a law student), and trained them in the practical realities of the law. This includes today's hiring partners, who were no more practice ready 30 years ago than law students are today (and perhaps less so with the greater prevalence of pure Socratic teaching 30 years ago). What has changed is that as clients get more savvy about billing (and overbilling), the partners are looking to shift their training costs on to the law schools.

If we are right, of course, about clinics producing more "practice ready" students, that should actually cause employment outcomes to go *down* marginally, since employers can hire one newer associate to do what it used to take 2 to do. But, employers have, correctly in my opinion, figured that it is easier to take the best and brightest students as measured by grades, and train them in the experiential portion of the law, than to take students that have some experience in the law through clinics and train them to be bright lawyers, and so we see that clinics continuing to have no impact on employment.

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