A MUST READ IF YOU ARE CONSIDERING OR ARE ABOUT TO ENTER LAW SCHOOL
For many years I have taken excerpts and quotes from the powerful devastating criticism of legal education called The MacCrate Report.
The official name for it is Legal Education and Professional Development – An Educational Continuum, Report of The Task Force on Law Schools and the Profession: Narrowing the Gap, American Bar Associatioin, Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, July, 1992.
While the report is 414 pages long, one way to summarize it is by saying that the task force stated that there are ten fundamental skills that a lawyer needs to practice law and that the law schools teach two of them poorly. There are four fundamental values of the legal profession and while the report does not analyze the performance of the law schools, there is evidence that the law schools do not teach them well either.
Today, I scanned in the section entitled “The Need for Informed Choice” and am posting it here.
If you are considering attending law school or if you are planning to start law school in the fall, you must read this.
If you are in law school, if you are faculty and staff at a law school, if you graduated from a law school and if you care about the future of the legal profession, it is important that you read this.
Realize that this was written in 1992 long before the current economic downturn.
Your comments are invited and welcome.
B. The Need for Informed Choice
There are three critical stages of decision-making en route to becoming a lawyer: 1) Perhaps the most significant, whether to enter the legal profession at all; 2) which law school to choose; and 3) what career path to enter after law school. Each occasion should be a time for careful reflection and self-assessment based upon sufficient information to make an informed choice. Far too often these decisions are made without sufficient information or thought. Many common factors affect each of these decisions. The three stages of decision-making are parts of an ongoing process of self-development.
Many factors influence each individual’s decision. When exploring the possibility of becoming a lawyer, choosing a law school, and finding a practice niche, individuals pursue and rely on a variety of information. They may seek advice from friends, relatives, guidance counselors, professors, lawyers, the popular press, career guidebooks, magazine articles, law school bulletins, and other sources. The consequences flowing from their decisions are important to their career satisfaction, to the legal profession, and to society. Timely and accurate information about the legal profession and the function of law schools as the gateway to the profession helps prepare prospective applicants for a future in law and may help prevent some from becoming locked into a career from which they draw no real satisfaction, for which they are poorly suited, and in which they perform marginally. Such individuals need access to comprehensive and objective information.
The 1990 Report on the State of the Legal Profession, issued by the ABA Young Lawyers Division, presents evidence suggesting that many may have entered the profession with inadequate information regarding a life in the law. While interest in law is at a peak, the survey found that lawyer dissatisfaction had risen.6 It was noted that, since 1984, “across the board, regardless of job setting, there has been a dramatic 20% reduction in the number of lawyers indi-
5. See BYERS, SAMUELSON & WILLIAMSON, LAWYERS IN TRANSITION-PLANNING A LIFE IN THE LAW 1988).
6. Career dissatisfaction may not be a new phenomenon. The 1986 Vogt study, supra note 3, at 10, found that many lawyers who had received their degrees several years prior to the study were no longer practicing law. It may be inferred that career dissatisfaction was a factor in some cases. see also, Kaye, Free of the Law, HARVARD MAGAZINE (Jan. . Feb. 1992), at 60.
cating that they are very satisfied, accompanied by an increase in dissatisfaction.” The report also shed light on how expectations had changed between entering law school and graduation.
Career dissatisfaction is not exclusive to law; much is heard about unhappiness in medicine, accounting, teaching, and other professions. Many law school applicants are seeking career changes from other professions because their initial professional pursuits have not met their expectations. It seems clear that better information about career characteristics is needed at the beginning.
Prospective law students generally are not knowledgeable about the profession: what certain jobs entail; what different paths for entry into the profession may be; how students should prepare for their careers; and how law schools may differ in the preparation they offer. Law students tend to be passive consumers of legal education; they simply assume that the law school experience adequately prepares them for practice. To the extent that this is not accurate, efforts should be made to inform students how to identify the skills they will need to be competent attorneys, and how to enable themselves to take an active role in their education by seeking appropriate training for those skills.
Law school administrators know the strengths and weaknesses of their own institutions and should be candid in discussing them with applicants. Catalogs and application materials should provide the kinds of information that will enable candidates to make informed decisions. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It has become routine, for example, to talk about skills training and clinical opportunities, but there may be no mention of enrollment restrictions nor of the chances of being accepted into these courses. Information may also be incomplete with regard to writing opportunities, seminars, and courses that are likely to be of particular interest to certain groups of students. Schools could be the source of considerable information about such concerns, about the pressures of law school and practice, about the kinds of work their graduates do, and about the financial and personal implications of different legal careers.
A review of catalogs and entries in the Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, published by the Law School Admission Council in cooperation with the American Bar Association and the Association of American Law Schools, provides evidence that schools are not doing a good job distinguishing themselves from one another. Many appear to be all things to all people. This is unfortunate, ecause it prevents law school applicants from making intelligent and informed choices as to which law schools would be good matches for them.
The provision of high-quality information at an early stage would be a significant step in this direction.
The perceived lack of adequate information coming from law schools themselves has resulted in a plethora of materials purporting to fill the vacuum. These include articles, books, and a variety of law school ratings which have attracted considerable attention. Many legal educators have commented on the defects in these materials, especially the ratings, but little has been done to address the underlying problem. It is now time to do so.
With regard to the selection of a law school, the following kinds of information would be helpful to a prospective student:
a Admissions data
b. Tuition, costs, and financial aid data
c. Enrollment and graduation data
d. Composition of faculty and administration
e. Curricular offerings and class sizes
f. Library resources
g. Physical plant
h. Housing availability
i. Financial resources available to support educational program
j. Placement and bar passage data7
This list is not exhaustive; there is much more information that one could seek in selecting a law school. A good deal of that data is submitted annually to the ABA Consultant on Legal Education’s office by every law school approved by the American Bar Association. It is considered confidential and is not released. The Task Force recommends that, to the extent that such information is relevant, accurate, and useful in decision-making, the current policy of absolute confidentiality should be reconsidered.
Other steps could include:
* Distributing to all LSAT registrants a statement indicating that there are differences between law schools, describing broadly what those differences are, explaining that schools’ reputations do differ, and providing relevant information from the front of the Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools.
· Sending to each LSAT registrant a letter from the ABA and/or AALS and/or LSAC outlining the kinds of ques
7. This list is taken from a February 1992 draft interpretation of a proposed ABA
Standard for Approval of Law Schools, which would require the release by a law
school of “basic consumer information.”
tions an applicant should ask admissions personnel in order to obtain the kinds of information upon which to base a decision.
Expanding the ABA’s Annual Review of Legal Education and the Official Guide’s key facts, providing some of the information listed above. These materials might be mailed to LSAT registrants.
With regard to career path information, there are various helpful sources of information on the legal profession which identify key factors that should be considered by prospective law students when making the decision to become a lawyer.8 Such books profile attorney lifestyles in different practice settings and generally describe law school and the nature of legal education, but the subject matter today is so immense that any one of these books can serve only as a starting point in one’s exploration of law as a career. There is clear need for a more comprehensive way in which to address today’s diverse and changing legal profession and the practice of law in its myriad settings. This suggests that the ABA give consideration to producing a regularly updated volume of materials on careers in the law. Such information, augmented by current data available from law school placement professionals, could be extreLmely helpful to those considering law as a career.
Most prelaw counseling takes place only after in dividuals have already decided to become lawyers and are seeking information to assist them in selecting the law schools to which to apply. The need for advice at an earlier time in the decision-making process is apparent.
The organized bar’s programs in primary and secondary school of law-related education provide useful instruction at an early stage of choosing one’s career direction; but greater attention should be given by the bar to providing guidance during the undergraduate years on the factors to be considered in selecting law as a career.
We suggest that during undergraduate years the following considerations should be brought to the attention of prospective law students:
* prelegal education is crucial to the development of future
8. See, for example, Susan J. Bell, Full Disclosure: Do You Really Want to Be A awyer?, ABA Young Lawyers Division (1989); V. Countryman, T. Finman, & T.J. Schneyer, The Lawyer in Modern Society, 2nd Ed. (1976); T. Ehrlich & 0. Hazard, Going to Law School? Readings on a Legal Career (1975); Eve Spangler, Lawyers for Hire, Salaried Professionals at Work (1986). Cf. F. UTLEY & GA. MUNNEKE, FROM LAW STUDENT TO LAWYER (1984), from the ABA Career Series, which is published as A Career Planning Manual” for students while in law school.
lawyers, As early as 1953, the AALS issued a Statement on Prelegal Education, calling attention to the quality of undergraduate instruction that AALS believed fundamental to the later attainment of legal competence, and to the fact that quality of prelaw education was important to the development of basic skills and insights needed in the study and practice of law. The Statement pointed to the importance of:
* oral and written expression;
* critical understanding of the human institutions and values with which the law deals;
* creative power in thinking.
The AALS Statement’s emphasis on communication, oral and written, is underlined by the recent ABF survey on legal education and the profession, “Assessing the New Generation of Lawyers,” Appendix B. The two most important skills as defined by beginning practitioners are oral and written communication, but most of these practitioners do not believe that they learned these skills primarily in law school. Jt is important for them to come to law school as prepared as possible in these skills. Prospective law students should be encouraged to review the AALS Statement when planning their undergraduate studies.
In addition, we point out that the ABA Special Committee for a Study of Legal Education identified in 1980 some specific areas of the undergraduate curriculum which can be helpful to would-be lawyers. It is also important that undergraduates know that selection of a law school can significantly impact one’s career options. For example, attendance at a “national” school may enhance one’s chances of entering large firm practice, but may discourage entering practice in other settings.
Course selection in law school may be important to certain law firm interviewers, but generally does not open or foreclose later opportunities. Students may make curriculum choices with an eye toward honing particular skills, producing the best possible gradepoint average, passing a bar examination, coming into contact with the best teachers, or pleasing potential future employers. These different goals are likely to require somewhat different approaches to curriculum planning.
Finally, the Task Force recommends that its Statement of Fundamental Lawycring Skills and Professional Values be made available to prospective and entering law students to inform them about the skills and values they will be expected to possess as lawyers. This will help them to seek appropriate educational opportunities both in law school and beyond to develop these skills and values.