Thinking Like Law Professors

Bruce MacEwen continues my rant from last week.  In his post Name the Missing Law School Course, Bruce takes on (much better than I did, I’m sad to admit) the systematic failure of law schools to prepare their students for real-world law practice.  As much as I hate to pull the bulk of his post into mine, I’m going to do it anyway (please don’t sue me, Bruce):

Far meatier and insightful is an article I stumbled across from July 2002 pointing out the existence, and the consequences, of a deplorable gap in law school education:  The all but complete absence of courses on law firms as businesses.*  This leaves associates starting out utterly in the dark about the fundamental dynamics that drive what they cost and what they’re worth to their firms.  Note that we’re not talking about weighty strategic choices, the long-term impact of market positioning, the dilemmas facing mid-tier full-service firms, or any other advanced management issues:  We’re talking about billing, realization rates, the relative profitability of different practice areas, and other “low-hanging fruit.” 

To recur to my own experience, I had no clue at what point the firm might “break even” on me (and the firm, as you might expect, would have been the last to tell me).

Ignorance can lead associates into an attitude of entitlement—always an endearing trait to partners!—because they are simply clueless about how the money behind their salary check is generated.  Associates with at least a modicum of savvy about the business realities of a firm are far less likely to fall into that trap.

Why are there virtually no such courses?  This is an example of microeconomics trumping macroeconomics, as it were.  (I’m somewhat contorting these terms, but bear with me.)  From the “macro” perspective, the profession would be far better off, immediately and at very little cost, if law school graduates had been exposed to Firm Economics 101.  On this I hope all readers of “Adam Smith, Esq.” can agree.

But from the “micro” perspective of law school faculty or deans designing curricula, firm economics is an orphan:  It isn’t “academic,” in the conventional sense; it doesn’t have anything to do with training one to “think like a lawyer,” it bears no connection to either substantive or procedural law; and it’s a safe generalization to say that personality types attracted to the career of law professor don’t think like businesspeople or economists. 

Well, there you have it.  Two leading legal bloggers agree that law schools suck at making lawyers.  Anyone else out there?

 

5 Responses to Thinking Like Law Professors
  1. Bruce MacEwen
    September 13, 2005 | 3:04 pm

    Thanks, Matt! And you’re forgiven under the circumstances for lifting verbatim–it’s not exactly without attribution!

    cheers,

    :Bruce

  2. Adam Smith, Esq.
    September 13, 2005 | 3:58 pm

    Name The Missing Law School Course

    With all the attention we pay to strategy, globalization, MA and consolidation, practice group and knowledge management, and other issues in firm management on the more or less empyrean plane, it’s time for a word about associates. For starters, …

  3. Adam Smith, Esq.
    September 15, 2005 | 4:19 pm

    Name The Missing Law School Course

    With all the attention we pay to strategy, globalization, MA and consolidation, practice group and knowledge management, and other issues in firm management on the more or less empyrean plane, it’s time for a word about associates. For starters, …

  4. Adam Smith, Esq.
    September 15, 2005 | 5:03 pm

    Name The Missing Law School Course

    With all the attention we pay to strategy, globalization, MA and consolidation, practice group and knowledge management, and other issues in firm management on the more or less empyrean plane, it’s time for a word about associates. For starters, …

  5. Anything Under the Sun Made By Man
    September 20, 2005 | 2:45 pm

    Law Firms as Businesses

    I attended a local networking and entrepreneur meeting this morning and the topic was pricing strategies. Throughout the lively interactive session, many people with different perspectives and a wealth of information shared various viewpoints. We discu…

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