Why Law School Cost and Curriculum Matter To Legal Consumers

President Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate and former law school professor, recently weighed in on the debate on the duration of law school, stating:

English: Barack Obama

English: Barack Obama (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I believe that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years. . . . that step alone would reduce the cost for the student.

This set off a flurry of commentary on both sides of the debate.  One in particular caught our eye.  Eric Reed posted an article Friday on Mainstreet.com titled Give Me Back My Third Year of Law School.  After acknowledging that his third year at the University of Michigan Law School allowed him “to think deeply and learn from extraordinary minds,” he did not feel it made him a better lawyer:

Here’s the dirty little secret about modern legal education: it doesn’t prepare students to actually practice law. Being a lawyer is about filing out forms, working within government systems and whatever it is the corporate structuring guys do every day. Some 90% of practice, especially as a junior associate, is about research and writing when it’s not about mind-numbing tedium.

When I graduated from law school I barely knew how to do any of that stuff. None of us did.

Mr. Reed posits that the first year of law school is when students learn to be lawyers, and the second allows students to specialize and interview for summer internships that hopefully lead to jobs after graduation.  The third year is either an intellectual exercise or “an eight-month-long Spring Break.”

Regardless of intellectual merit, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that nothing I learned during those final two semesters that helped to prepare me when it came time to write a research memo, summarize a stack of depositions or spend countless hours at document review.

So why does any of this matter to legal consumers?  Because if you hire a law firm that uses new attorneys, or a new attorney who has hung out a shingle, then you need to be aware of their readiness to practice law, and that they likely have a mountain of law school debt.

While new attorneys can perform certain tasks that more seasoned (and more expensive) attorneys should not charge clients to do, there ought to be proper oversight by senior attorneys.  In the end, the staffing of your case should result in top representation at a cost efficient price.

But law school debt is a factor in the price of legal services.  According to the American Bar Association, last year the average private law school debt was $125,000.  Law firms have to pay large associate salaries so that the associates can pay their law school debts.  This often translates into law firms’ high billable hour requirements and rising hourly rates.  It is important to understand law firm financial dynamics to ensure you are receiving quality legal services at a fair price.

These are important factors to consider when choosing a lawyer (or law firm) . . . and when analyzing legal bills.  At LPR, we understand how these issues can affect representation and billing, and we can help you navigate your attorney/client relationship to avoid undesirable outcomes.

You’ve got options.  The Center for Legal Practice Reform can help you navigate the attorney/client relationship and level the playing field.  Call LPR today for a free consultation – (301) 351-7970. 

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