More than a century ago, Dr. William Osler introduced grand rounds to young physicians at Johns Hopkins. Dr. Osler would rotate around the Hopkins rotunda with medical students and young physicians, stopping along the way to examine patients and to discuss their cases.
The objective then mirrored how the Hopkins Department of Medicine describes it now: “to demonstrate the best in the analysis and treatment of difficult clinical problems in real-life patients who often tell their own story. The patient remains our link between current research and modern therapeutics.”
Why Not Law Schools?
Law schools would do well to adopt this approach. The problem is that: (1) most law school faculty neither are engaged in practice nor, in many cases, have they ever practiced; (2) clinical programs aside, most law school programs have no interaction with clients (“patients”); and (3) there is little connection between legal research and contemporary practice. I won’t count the absence of rotundas at most law schools as a fourth obstacle.
Palliatives but not cures
Law schools can certainly revamp their curricula by combining doctrinal learning with practice-oriented courses and training. Some are beginning to do so while others are “making room” for it by compressing the three-year program into two, freeing up graduates to go into the marketplace and attempt to acquire jobs and/or necessary practice skills. But change to law school curricula will be gradual (witness the ABA’s most recent mandate), and graduates are facing a tough job market where “on the job training”—not to mention mentorship—is increasingly rare. And note: the average law school student now carries well into six-figure debt—and that is just for the law school part of the education tab.
A Solution: Legal Service Provider/Law School Collaboration
Here’s a solution: what if the private sector were to collaborate (dare I say “partner”?) with law schools to provide associate residency training programs for recent graduates? Such a combination job/post-graduate residency training could work along these lines: (1) an established legal service provider commits to developing a robust post-graduate training curriculum that is vetted and approved by law schools, several of whose graduates are hired as Associate Residents by the provider; (2) the Associate Residents are paid for their services (something comparable to a Judicial Clerkship salary), sign on for a two-year hitch, and are exposed to a rigorous rotational curriculum of contemporary legal building-block skills (such as e-discovery, cyber-security, data management, etc.) taught by highly-trained, experienced legal practitioners employed by the provider; (3) part of the residency rotation includes a stint at a law firm so that the resident can “put everything together” and receive critically important mentorship to augment what is provided in the different practice skill segments; and (4) at the end of the stint, the resident not only has highly-marketable skills but also has developed a network and has no resume gap”
The Predictable blow-back
Skeptics—including many tenured law school faculty–will say that such training is “vocational” and relegates graduates to dead-end positions that cannot possibly lead to productive, successful, even lucrative legal careers. Many elite schools would be reticent to attach their brand to a “vendor” collaborator, even if that “vendor” was, in fact, a highly integrated and sophisticated provider of legal services to leading corporations and law firms. They would not even address the helpful placement of recent graduates (good for their ranking); income that could flow to their institutions (law schools are under increasing economic pressure as they are no longer the cash cows for the Universities they are a part of) ; or the potential to learn first-hand subject matter which could helpfully become a part of the law school curriculum.
What’s Wrong with an “everyone wins” approach in a market most see as a “zero sum” one?
The legal vertical has become a “zero sum game” place, one evocative of Darwin. How and why, then, would an Associate Residency Program yield a win for all stakeholders: law students, law schools, the provider, and the marketplace?
Graduates would receive post-graduate training and acquire skills not presently taught at law schools. They would rotate through intensive training in core skills (see above), reinforce that training—while being carefully supervised—by experienced practitioners, and would be paid for it. Better still, they would become “market ready” and poised to assume managerial positions in the rapidly-changing legal delivery system.
Law Schools would witness the augmentation of the core course work their graduates were immersed in with practical, marketable skills that are the foundational blocks of modern legal practice. E-Discovery, for example, implicates a number of “traditional” course areas: evidence, ethics, civil procedure, and trial practice to cite but a few. And law schools participating with the employer/residency training provider, would derive an economic benefit derived from a portion of the revenues generated by residents. Who knows: perhaps they might apply those funds for scholarships or for reducing tuition fees?
The legal service provider who hires the graduates as employees, pays them a salary comparable to a judicial clerkship or some other coveted post-graduate position (and provides benefits), is creating the lawyers of tomorrow. Whether those well-trained residents opt to stay with the company or go elsewhere, many of them, no doubt, will retain a loyalty to a company that kick-started their legal careers and introduced them to opportunities that would have otherwise been out-of-reach.
The Legal Marketplace (and ultimately consumers/clients) would benefit from a highly-trained, practice-ready group of lawyers who, in addition to doctrinal learning, were skilled in core areas of contemporary practice. These skills—or at least an understanding of how they are now an integral part of the legal delivery process—are essential to the marketplace.
Sound far-fetched? It’s already happening. Details will be provided in future posts.