Law schools pressured to focus on hands-on training

The annual meeting of the Association of American Law Schools shed light on the struggles that law schools are now facing, including their lack of focus on practical training.

Amid a treacherous job market, big law firms are putting pressure on law schools to shift their focus from intensive research to more hands-on training, noting that their clients are no longer willing to pay for firms to train new associates.

For decades, law schools have focused heavily on research in the hopes that it would make them appear more elite in the rankings. Some deans, however, say its time to get back to law and start educating lawyers differently.

“The primary mission of my law school is to educate lawyers, and that does not make me a trade school,” Ellen Y. Suni, dean of The University of Missouri at Kansas City School of Law, said.  “It's time we all stopped being wannabes.”

The shift in coursework is a lot easier said than done, however. One issue is the tenure system. In the panel discussion, Gary R. Roberts, dean of Indian University School of Law, noted that most faculty are rewarded for their scholarship, and need that prestige to be granted tenure. Fewer tenured professors, means less of a chance of being accredited by the American Bar Association. 

“We all know we need more skills training, but we need to find ways to change the culture so we can get there,” Roberts said. 

Nearly 3,000 legal educators attended the annual meeting, discussing topics such as the job market, changing coursework and accreditation issues. 

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