My former colleague Michelle Harner has written an interesting paper entitled The Value of “Thinking Like a Lawyer.” Michelle recognizes that the market for legal services is changing, but argues for the preservation of that unique set of analytical skills that those in the legal profession call thinking like a lawyer.
Here’s the abstract:
“The legal profession was hit particularly hard by the recent recession. Law firms laid off lawyers in record numbers, and law school graduates found few if any employment opportunities. Clients also started rethinking the terms of the lawyer-client relationship, at least in the larger law firm context. Some commentators suggest that these changes are indicative of things to come; that the legal profession is undergoing a long-overdue paradigm shift that will permanently change the nature of the legal profession. This Essay examines these developments through the lens of Larry Ribstein’s The Death of Big Law and Richard Susskind’s The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services. It compares and contrasts Ribstein’s and Susskind’s analyses of the profession and assesses potential lessons for lawyers, clients, and legal educators. This Essay concludes by encouraging professionals to remain open to changes that improve efficiency and client service. It also stresses the value of preserving and promoting the hallmark of being a lawyer - that is, thinking like a lawyer.”
I agree, but how do we make sure law schools can teach people to think like lawyers when our hiring criteria increasingly privilege people who do interdisciplinary and empirical rather than traditional legal scholarship? When we hire people with mediocre law credentials just because they're good at running regressions or have a PhD? Or when the PhDs we hire went the law route either because law schools pay more or because they didn't have the chops to get a top job in their home discipline.
If we were still trying to hire folks because they were EIC of a top law review, head of their law school class, had a good clerkship, and some experience in a top law firm doing real law, I'd be more confident of our ability to teach people to think like lawyers instead of teaching them to think like mediocre statisticians, sociologists, philosophers, economists, or what have you.