Continuing Practice Experience . . . for Professors?

January 4th, 2012 / By

Emily Zimmerman, an associate professor at Drexel’s Earle Mack School of Law, proposes that law professors should fill “continuing practice experience” requirements. In an SSRN paper, Zimmerman notes that “many of the people who are entrusted with preparing students for law practice are people who may not actually have practiced law, who may only have practiced law for a short amount of time . . . , or who may not have practiced law recently.” (p. 7) Zimmerman acknowledges that these professors may “do an excellent job of helping students develop some of the skills that they will need to be successful lawyers.” But is that enough? Shouldn’t law schools strive to give students the best possible education for their role as lawyers? To accomplish that, Zimmerman argues that full-time faculty should enjoy more regular connection to the world of practice.

Modeling her proposal on CLE requirements, Zimmerman suggests that professors devote 10-15 hours a year to “law practice.” To give professors more flexibility, and to allow more in-depth engagement, a “CPE” requirement might mandate 30-45 hours of practice every three years. The activities fulfilling this requirement could range from actual practice (for paying or pro bono clients) to shadowing active lawyers and participating in bar committee work. Professors without active licenses, including those without law degrees, could participate in some of the latter activities.

Turning her eye to enforcement, Zimmerman outlines a variety of ways to impose a CPE requirement: Individual schools could adopt such a requirement for their professors; the ABA could revise its standards to require or encourage CPE; and/or the AALS could include CPE in its Statement of Good Practices.

Zimmerman’s brief paper offers a thoughtful suggestion for cultivating an ongoing connection between law schools and law practice. Professors might, as she notes, resist a CPE requirement; it might also degenerate into a loophole-ridden rule or another series of talking-head seminars. But Zimmerman’s core idea holds strong appeal. If law professors ventured into practice for at least a few hours each year, they might see their teaching and scholarship through new eyes. At the very least, they would see some of the market pressures that their graduates face each day.

  • Vince3838

    What is the profession’s obsession with window dressing all about? This is just like CLE and New York new mandatory pro bono requirement for new attorneys, which are sad jokes. The notion that a token 10-15 hours a year of “practice” is going to be meaningful is ludicrous.

    This brings to mind a program now operating in NYC Housing Court called “Lawyer for a Day.” The program gives private, mostly Wall Street attorneys with no L&T experience a couple hours of “training” and then sends them off to represent poor tenants. These lawyers do not have a clue and frequently settle cases on very poor terms that, because the tenant had a “lawyer,” are then almost impossible to undo.

    In a similar vein, I can’t think of a single law school professor I had who I would trust to represent me on a traffic ticket. No offense to DJM, but the reason these folks become law professors is because they have no desire or affinity for actual practice.

  • DeborahMerritt

    I agree that many professors would have difficulty practicing–and that even experienced lawyers can be ineffective if they pick up a single case in an area unfamiliar to them. I’m particularly intrigued with Emily’s suggestion that professors shadow practitioners; one can learn a lot that way. It might also be productive to bring practitioners and lawyers together in groups to address particular issues facing the practicing bar. These could be substantive issues, practice management issues, or other types of questions. The practitiioners could get CLE credit for educating the professors and the professors could get CPE credit for learning about current problems in practice.

    I served on a bar/school task force a few years ago and learned that many practitioners were eager for professors to visit them and learn about their practices. It wouldn’t take much time, and I think it could create a producive dialogue. What abut something like that?

    • Vince3838

      Even if one assumes that shadowing would give clueless law profs meaningful insight into the drudgery of day-to-day law practice, it will remain mere window dressing so long as the profs scuttle back to the Ivory Tower and continue teaching “Positivist Legal Theory,” “Just and Unjust Wars,” and “Anthropology of Law,” all real courses from my alma mater.

  • bumperpflug

    An infinitely easier way to accomplish the same end and actually save money at the same time would be to ease the ABA restriction on adjuncts.

  • Douglas6

    A good start would be requiring all law professors to be admitted to the bar of the state where their law school is located.

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