Marty Dolan, principal at Dolan Law and his associate Karen Munoz represent victims of wrongful death and personal injury. His column “Law and Wellness,” appears in the Chicago Lawyer and her column appears regularly in the Law Bulletin. This week’s column is written by Karen Munoz.
Recently, the New York Times featured a piece on law school’s churning out JD’s with no or little practical experience. The trend for a very long time had been to emphasize the theoretical over the practical in course curriculum. Lately, due to a variety of economical, and other reasons, that trend has begun to shift. In big law, clients are not as eager or willing to pay for new associates learning the ropes as they once were. Therein lays a significant problem. Schools aren’t teaching it, and once you are lucky enough to get a job, you don’t know the first thing about the day to day practice.
Some JD’s were lucky in the sense that they clerked at a law firm during school. They may have picked up the basics such as where you file a lawsuit, how to do a title search or keeping track of your time. That might be some of law student’s experiences but I would gander that it is not the vast majority’s experience. In civil procedure they teach you what is required to file a motion to dismiss or how service is effectuated. They don’t teach you how to track down defendants who don’t want to be found or that not all motions to dismiss should be brought. Same thing with property law.
We were taught until my head nearly imploded the rule against perpetuities, (even though it has not been in existence for eons), future interests, and fee simple structures. What I didn’t learn was the basics of handling the sale of a home, and in the recent years, I suspect it may have been handy for young real estate practitioners to learn the ins and outs of short sales, and foreclosures.
Fortunately many schools have realized the dilemma caused by the structure of law school courses, and have included practical courses in the curriculum. In some law schools it is not atypical to find classes such a pretrial practice, fair housing and immigration law clinics. This approach is not only much needed but it really gives students the opportunity to practically work in different areas of the law. For many students, they have no idea what type of law they would like to practice once they pass the bar.
Having the option to participate in a tax clinic, a contract drafting course or a trial advocacy class can really guide a student’s decision in what they actually enjoy or have no affinity for. One forgets that law at the end of the day is practice, and having to practice something you are not good at or do not like, will not benefit anyone. I think the NYT aptly pointed put an issue of big concern in the legal profession. That being said, there are plenty of solutions law schools can and have been putting into place to rectify it.