You'd think so, but Deborah Jones Merritt has some evidence that they don't:
Pedagogically and professionally, it makes sense for law schools to teach practical skills along with theory and doctrine. New lawyers should know how to interview clients, file simple legal documents, and analyze real-world problems, just as new doctors should know how to interview patients, use a stethoscope, and offer a diagnosis. Hands-on work can also deepen knowledge received in the classroom. Law students who apply classroom theories to real or simulated clients develop stronger intellectual skills, as well as new practical ones.
Employers say they are eager to hire these better-trained, more rounded, more “practice ready” lawyers–and they should be. That’s why the employment results for Washington & Lee’s School of Law are so troubling. Washington & Lee pioneered an experiential third-year program that has won accolades from many observers. Bill Hendersoncalled Washington & Lee’s program the “biggest legal education story of 2013.” The National Jurist named the school’s faculty as among the twenty-five most influential people in legal education. Surely graduates of this widely praised program are reaping success in the job market?
Sadly, the statistics say otherwise. Washington & Lee’s recent employment outcomes are worse than those of similarly ranked schools. The results are troubling for advocates of experiential learning. They should also force employers to reflect on their own behavior: Does the rhetoric of “practice ready” graduates align with the reality of legal hiring?
After crunching the numbers, Merritt asks:
Washington & Lee’s outcomes are puzzling given both the prominence of its third-year program and the stridency of practitioner calls for more practical training. Just last week, California’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform suggested: “If, in the future, new lawyers come into the profession more practice-ready than they are today, more jobs will be available and new lawyers will be better equipped to compete for those jobs.” (p. 14) If that’s true, why isn’t the formula working for Washington & Lee?
She then explores some possible explanations and implications. My own take away lesson is that nobody has figured out how to educate 21st Century lawyers. My best guess is that a combination of MOOCs and some sort of apprenticeship would be ideal. And I still think law should be an undergraduate major instead of a graduate school. But who knows? The trouble, of course, is that market pressures and the ABA's absurdly detailed accrediation and state bar admission rules severely limit schools' willingness to undertake radical experimentation.