Our first panelist in the law student edition of this Five by Five is not a law student at all, but was when he started his blog, Sugar, Mr. Poon?, so I asked him anyway. Though I know his secret identity, I am sworn to secrecy (go to the FAQ’s 1 and 2 to see if you can figure it out yourself). So, here you go Mr. Poon.
Five Things I’d Change About Legal Education:
Note: I just noticed that my distinguished co-panelists are still law students. I’m a recent graduate now working at a big firm in NYC.
1. Teach Us to be Lawyers Better: My first-year Legal Writing professor told us that his pass/fail writing class would be the most important in our 3 years of law school. I don’t think that’s quite right — but I do think it’s right with respect to many students who don’t take advantage of clinical opportunities in law school. Evidence and Corporations and Tax and “Law and Jackson Pollock’s Motorhome”-esque classes provide a good basis of information, but when you’re practicing you’re gonna need to look up that issue of Delaware law to avoid malpractice, whether you got an A+ on your Corps exam or not.
I was fortunate to have been involved in several practice-oriented classes, and I’ve found that it was THOSE experiences that prepared me to be a lawyer — or at least a first-year associate at a big firm. (Although friends who are working in much different jobs — either at law firms or in other sectors or what not — agree with me on this point.)
Or, put another way, being able to debate the Supreme Court’s revitalization of the sovereign immunity doctrine is great, but it doesn’t give you a clue about what makes a good Statement of the Case.
(And don’t get me wrong — your ConLaw class has a good deal of value. I really enjoyed law school on an intellectual level because of classes like ConLaw and Torts and so on. But in terms of the “traditional” practice of law — be it at a big firm or as a solo practitioner — knowing how to draft a motion or defend a deposition are more important skills than knowing Potter Stewart’s shoe size.)
On that note…
2. Make the Third Year More Clinical: Maybe this is Part 1(b). I would be surprised if one of my distinguished co-panelist-type-people doesn’t offer the suggestion that law school be shortened to 2 years. I hear this a lot. I don’t think it’s the most terrible idea, especially given the cost of law school these days.
I have a better idea: integrate clinical/practical classes into the third-year curriculum and make one or two mandatory each semester. My school had a mandatory public service requirement, which was a very good thing. But it didn’t mean you’d get any practical experience. Integrating those experiences into the third year would keep that year alive and fill the practical experience void at the same time. (See also #5 for a discussion of judicial internships/clerkships in the third year.)
And one of those classes should be on Lawyerly Advice. Law students need to hear things like “Always hand in work that is good enough to be filed” and “Stay away from that Whitewater thing”.
(A more stark version of this model is used in a majority of American medical schools, where the education is (roughly speaking) 2 years of book learnin’ and 2 years of <strike>touching peoples’ privates</strike> <strike>poking and prodding strangers</strike> <strike>taking someone’s temperature… and not orally</strike> hands-on learnin’. Works well.)
3. More cookies: Seriously. Sometimes my professors gave out cookies or other sweets. And sure, I got a little jumpy from the sugar high and probably blogged more than usual during that class, but I recall paying attention more too. And besides, you know, like, cookies are yummy, and stuff.
4. Depress the Cost of Bar/Bi: Look. You can go to law school and not practice law. Fine by me. May be joining you sooner or later. You da mon.
Statistically speaking, however, most of us law grads at least take the Bar Exam and try out this lawyerin’ thing in one capacity or another. And the Bar Exam in each state in the Union now uses the Multistate Bar Examination — a horrid little 200-question test that I hate with a passion because it is evil and should be burned. (No, I’m not bitter – I passed the NY Bar. . . but I’m angry at that stupid f-ing test anyway. I hate you so much, MBE.)
The MBE deals in majority and minority rules and is generally designed to confuse you with poorly-worded sentences and trick you into not using your common sense. I think law schools should have a class on this stuff, just to get you ready. Could be an elective. Just a thought.
5. Push More Students Toward Judicial Clerkships and Internships: I think that a lot of law schools don’t push clerkships and internships enough. Yes, the clerkship market, especially in the federal courts, is very competitive. But internships are generally much easy to come by, and can be done while in school.
In fact, as part of “Mr. Poon’s Happy Fun Time Third-Year Clinical Bonanza” detailed in #2 above, I would reach out to judges in the area to set up semester-ly internships that get students into chambers and into court. Being in a courtroom for the trial process is great experience, both in law and in life.* Law schools should use their position in the community and prestige to create those opportunities for their students which will make them better prepared to be lawyers and/or good at Grand Theft Auto.
*May or may not be true — I got it from a fortune cookie.
PS – After re-reading the above, it may seem to some like I’m complaining that law schools aren’t enough like trade schools and/or lawyer factories. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that for all the wonderful things I learned in law school – and I learned a lot – the things I learned in my clinics and internships were the most valuable to what I am doing now (and what most of my friends are doing, including those not at a job similar to mine). And they need to be a greater component of American legal education — or at least mandatory, for Newdow’s sake.
PPS – It also may seem like I’m complaining that law schools aren’t giving out enough cookies. I am. They aren’t. No, seriously.