April 19, 2010
The death of big law and the future of legal education
Posted by Account Deleted

Since Usha was kind enough to kick this off with a reference to The Death of Big LawI thought I'd start with the conclusion of the current version of the article (forthcoming in Wisconsin Law Review, footnotes omitted) in which I speculate on the death's implications for the future of legal education:

First, a major shift in market demand for law graduates ultimately will affect the demand for and price of legal education. Big Law’s inverted pyramid, by which law firms can bill out even entry-level associate time at high hourly rates, has created a high demand and escalating pay for top law students. The pressures on Big Law discussed throughout this Article are ending this era with layoffs, deferrals, pay reductions, and merit-based pay. Although law school applications appear to be holding up through the end of 2009, as the recession still affects overall employment, this may not continue if the general economy improves but the demand for Big Law does not. Law schools will have to find education models that are more cost-effective and that address employer demands in the new market for law graduates discussed in this Part.

Second, law schools will have to undertake much of the training that they traditionally have delegated to Big Law and other employers. Because client pressure is likely to push fees to better reflect associates’ level of training and experience, law firms will have to do more of the training. The increasing instability of large law firms and their lack of any device, such as non-competition agreements, for binding trained lawyers to the firm make it unlikely this investment will pay off. Moreover, the decline of the tournament model of Big Law hiring means that law graduates no longer can expect to benefit from the multi-year training and screening period the tournament used to offer.

Third, Big Law’s death poses difficult questions for law schools as to what they should train their students to do. The use of law in finance, the increasing importance of in-house counsel, lawyers’ increasing roles within businesses, and the combination of law with other types of expertise, among other developments, create a demand for lawyers who can function within business rather than just delivering technical legal advice from the outside. Law school therefore may need to offer more business background in both advanced seminars and basic courses like business associations, securities regulation, antitrust, and bankruptcy. Also, the development of legal products and the increasing use of technology in law practice require technical training that enables lawyers to do more than just litigate and give individualized advice. Richard Susskind imagines a world in which much of what is now regarded as law practice has been taken over by information technologists and other specialists. Thus, Susskind suggests that law students will need to be able to engineer legal knowledge.

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