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New York commercial litigator Yulia Vangorodska, Esq - logo

The future of law school

Eric Gerding wrote a couple of days ago about the “Death of ‘Big Law School.'” He has some dismal predictions of what the Death of Big Law (taking off from my paper) means for legal education:

  • Lower-paying jobs mean lower tuition income and less alumni support.
  • More emphasis on training of practice-ready lawyers.
  • But a lower-cost model of doing so – i.e., bigger classes, more reliance on adjuncts, grad students, VAPs.
  • Research will have to find grants.

The WSJ Law Blog opines, “[i]f we’re reading Gerding correctly, law school may become less fun, but perhaps more useful.”

My article linked above has a somewhat different view. My basic theory is that law firms are dying because they have no asset core binding them together. Future lawyers must be trained to build those assets. This means high-end law practice will not simply shrink or get less lucrative, but be transformed into general-purpose firms that call for closer connections between law and other disciplines.

Here’s what I say about the implications of these developments for legal education:

First, creating the new legal products industry . . . . requires law-trained entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. Law students will need training that enables them to develop products rather than just how to litigate and give individualized advice. This could lead to a convergence of legal education with technology and business training.

Second, law firms investing in research and development . . . could increase the demand for the sort of “law and” work law schools have been moving toward for the last generation. Law firms might use disciplines such as history, psychology and economics to get potentially profitable insights into contracts and litigation.

Third, the multi-disciplinary firms discussed [above] involve not only a combination of distinct disciplines, but also a kind of synergy that firms cannot easily replicate simply by hiring in those disciplines. Lawyers will have to learn to speak the languages of the other disciplines in their firms, and these other disciplines will have to learn some law.

Fourth, the growing role of in-house counsel . . . would make these business people integral parts of their firms. This could trigger a broader demand for business-trained lawyers than is now supplied by JD or JD-MBA programs. Business training could be moved within law schools by greater attention to business background in both advanced seminars and basic courses like business associations, securities regulation, antitrust and bankruptcy.

Finally, all the above developments plus the Wal-Mart lawyer phenomenon discussed [above] point to an even clearer separation between the high and low ends of legal practice than currently exists. While some types of practice will demand even more sophistication and multi-disciplinary skills than many current lawyers have, the Wal-Mart lawyer would need less training than the standard three years of law school. As the market for legal services fractures, so might legal education.

In other words, many of the high-end lawyers of the future will have to be trained to be more than just lawyers. “Law-and” may become part of the basic model, though “and” may be more business, finance and economics, perhaps with some psychology and sociology, but less philosophy.

My discussion of the “Wal-Mart” lawyer suggests there will still be a need for “law-only” lawyers to do more routine legal work. Expect these lawyers to come from the kind of law schools Gerding envisions. The strategic decisions made by today’s law schools will decide which category they end up in.

Update:  Erik provides a very interesting response.

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