Professor Kevin Outterson sent me a letter (below) he wrote today to Barry Currier, Interim Consultant on Legal Education at the ABA Section of Legal Education. In this letter, Outterson describes his concerns about law school-funded law firms.
Outterson makes one point that I find particularly interesting. If we think of these firms as post-grad clinics, where the employees are more like glorified interns, then it’s odd to consider these graduates employed in any sense that credits the school with positive job outcomes.
In my experience, the ABA–both its professional staff and members of the Council of the Section of Legal Education–is reticent to judge jobs as good or bad, real or fake. Generally, I agree with this; judging job quality too generally can pose problems because prospective students are diverse in their needs and desires. But Outterson’s point seems different. It’s like counting a graduate as employed at graduation because, on a certain day, a student was working at an in-school clinic.
Granted, these graduates will be paid, so they’re not much different than today’s school-funded jobs. (Although the pay appears better.) But is this putting permanent lipstick on a pig? School-funded jobs are a trend, especially at the richer schools, because law schools graduate too many students. Far more people want substantive legal work that sets them up for a legal career than can. Law school firms may solve the twiddling-thumbs problem faced by unemployed law school graduates, but they may also serve as an alternative to adjusting enrollment to sane levels.
While we cannot be confident that schools are not motivated by appearances (U.S. News or otherwise), we can be confident that the ABA is in a position to dictate what U.S. News uses in its methodology for employment data. With rare exception, U.S. News will not ask schools questions that the ABA does not ask on its annual questionnaire. If the ABA finds merit in Outterson’s suggestions, it should and can effectively act.
I read with dismay in the New York Times yesterday about the plans at some law schools to create and fund “law firms” that will exclusively employ their graduates. These are not “law firms,” but are more like post-grad clinics — internships in a law school post-grad clinic that charges fees on a sliding scale.
The unspoken assumption is that these students will be counted as employed at graduation for ABA and US News purposes. Does anyone doubt that if these internships were not counted, the enthusiasm for these programs would evaporate? Whether funded directly through the law school or indirectly through the alumni association, one goal here is to boost employment numbers artificially.
I strongly support the need to reform law school, especially the third year. The list of potential reforms from the Coalition of Concerned Colleagues is an excellent place to start. Real internships at real employers can be an outstanding career boost. Law schools posing as law firms will be an expensive travesty.
If the ABA fails to act immediately, US News may handsomely reward the sponsors of these programs. Law schools focusing on real jobs for their students will be hurt by comparison.
Boston University School of Law