How To Save Law School: Corporate Lawyers Must Be Ready To Do Their Jobs On Day One

    20 May 2013

    If you’re a student of military history, you know that the cavalry was not only used for tactical advantage in battle: Its most important function was to act as the eyes and ears of the traditional army. While the big, lumbering conventional forces would slowly make camp, the cavalries would go out and explore, then report back on what was out ahead, what was behind, and generally what was going on.

    Since becoming dean of Brooklyn Law School last fall, I feel as if I’ve been consulting with a cavalry of corporate general counsel, law firm managing partners, law school alumni, and even many of Patton Boggs’ clients.

    Because law schools—while not exactly at war—are facing big challenges. Too many students are graduating with bleak job prospects and huge debt loads, and schools face widespread criticism that they haven’t adapted their curriculum to the changing legal landscape.

    So I’ve been asking this cavalry of lawyers and legal consumers:

    What are clients willing to pay young lawyers to do?
    1. First, they are telling me that there is a tremendous, ongoing need for compliance and risk management lawyers to help clients navigate massive new regulatory programs in the areas of healthcare, finance, communications, privacy, and security.
    2. Second, I’m hearing loud and clear that clients do not want to pay lawyers to learn how to be lawyers. Law students must graduate ready for the practice of law on Day One.
    3. Thirdly, they do not want to pay lawyers to do routine work that can be commoditized and outsourced to non-lawyers, or (God forbid!) outsourced overseas. The three A’s—analysis, advice, and advocacy—are what they will hire lawyers to do.

    You’ll notice that their responses said as much about what they won’t pay lawyers to do as what they will. But I still believe there’s every reason to be hopeful about the future of the legal profession and legal education. At Brooklyn Law School, we’re already doing a lot to respond to the changing needs and demands of consumers of legal services.

    Our location here in the heart of both a thriving legal and entrepreneurial community allows our students to learn—in very concrete ways—the skills needed to solve their clients’ problems.

    For example, at our technology incubator clinic, Professor Jonathan Askin is essentially running a law firm that serves the many technology startups in this area as it gives our students valuable experience in growing fields such as intellectual property, communications, and privacy law. We’ve also created a “business boot camp,” which students will be able to attend between semesters, to ensure that they are business literate when they graduate.

    And we’re expanding a popular program for alumni on running your own law firm to make it available to students. The skills they learn there—formulating budgets, hiring staff, getting loans, and more—will be useful not only if they open a solo practice or become managing partner of a law firm, but also can help them better serve their business clients.

    As a private school independent of any university, we have more freedom than many to launch these kinds of innovative programs so we can adapt quickly to the evolving real-world legal landscape.

    We aren’t going to latch on to every legal fad-of-the-day. We’re not going to turn this law school into a business school. But we are going to make sure that we graduate the very best lawyers to represent businesses. We’re not going to sacrifice scholarship for practical training, but we are going to make sure we have the correct balance of each.

    What all law schools need to do today is to develop students who are resilient and creative and curious, so they can figure out the big legal issues that have yet to arise. We can’t give them the answers to questions we don’t know will be there, but we can give them the tools to solve problems that no one has seen before.

    At Brooklyn Law School, we are already doing that. And we will continue to do so, because we are training the cavalry of the future.