Improving law schools: It's good business

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Edward Poll
BridgeTower Media Newswires

It’s better, but it’s still not really good. What I’m talking about is the situation of law schools.

In a recent article in the American Bar Association Journal titled “Why Law Schools Need to Teach More Than the Law to Thrive (or Survive),” Chad Asarch and Phil Weiser write that law schools need to reinvent themselves and that merely teaching the details of law and testing students on that knowledge is an outdated system.

The authors offer suggestions for a new and improved system. The suggestions are useful — in and of themselves and as a jumping-off point for more discussion about how to educate students who will succeed in the business of law.

The state of law schools

Asarch and Weiser note that law schools, despite some gains in applications, are still hurting. Meanwhile, although hiring is on a slight incline, law firms are still hiring fewer new lawyers than in the heyday of law firm hiring.

The focus of law schools: what it is and what it should be

The authors suggest that law schools need to converse with a wide variety of employers to learn what skills are important in the workforce. They note that law schools tend to seek input only from large law firms, which value high GPAs.

However, there are many employers who value more than “the ability to do well on tests.” In fact, many employers have found that doing well on tests is not an indicator of a good employee in any way.

The authors, both affiliated with the University of Colorado Law School, developed courses that focus on skills beyond learn-and-spit-back testing, such as “experiences with real-world situations” and working in teams to learn from each other. They emphasize that collaborating with others helps the students make the most of themselves.

Asarch and Weiser learned that students who received high grades in traditional learning environments did not do well with the collaborative approach, which would “prove detrimental” in real-world negotiations and situations. The authors note that law schools need to look at those results and reevaluate how they teach in order to graduate students who are well prepared to meet the challenges of the real world.

The business of law: personal characteristics

The article highlights an important point that is often overlooked in the discussion of the education of future lawyers: Law is, at its core, a business, and students need to be prepared to enter this world of business with legal skills as well as personal characteristics that will help them succeed.

Collaboration and peer evaluation are important aspects of business. As attorneys, law students will need to interact with clients and colleagues and learn how to work with others toward a common end, how to negotiate effectively, and how to be the type of person with whom others want to work.

Business skills

In addition to personal characteristics, it is important for law schools to teach business skills. In order for a lawyer to succeed in practice, he or she must know about such things as business plans, insurance, pricing legal services, collections, creating cash flow forms, etc.

Conclusion

Law schools should take note: Innovation beyond the traditional is essential to attract and create a new legion of lawyers who will find success in the business of law.

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Edward Poll is the principal of LawBiz Management. He coaches lawyers and is the creator of “Life After Law,” a program that helps attorneys plan for profitable exits. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com.

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