Dear Dean Chemerinsky

Paul Caron at TaxProf is running a series of unsolicited “best big ideas” for incoming UC Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky.  Here’s my contribution, posted yesterday:

The quality of the new lawyers who graduate from law schools depends heavily on the quality of the students that law schools enroll. So, for my single best idea, I would adopt something akin to the business school model of admissions.

Make clear to prospective applicants that incoming students should have a minimum of two years’ of experience in the world before enrolling in school. Expect some meaningful exposure to the ways of a community or practice other than one based on taking tests and writing papers. Given special cases and exceptions, in practice this would amount to a presumption rather than a hard and fast rule.

Why?

  1. Too many law students today are new college graduates who couldn’t think of anything better to do. Some of those students will be discouraged from applying, meaning that law schools end up with more engaged students.
  2. Other things being equal, engaged students with a bit of worldly experience are likely to turn out to be better and more satisfied lawyers, because learning and practicing law are so bound up with knowledge of the world at large.
  3. A law school that adopts this strategy may have a comparative advantage in placing its students with employers. Law firms are reluctant to hire “older” students, but they are also frustrated by the expense of having to train new lawyers in the art of being an independent, responsible adult. A different admissions strategy may save firms some of that pain.

Here’s a link to the whole series.

4 thoughts on “Dear Dean Chemerinsky

  1. Professor Madison

    I applaud your suggestion that law school students experience a couple years of the real world before entering law school. As one of those liberal arts majors who pondered law school just because I had nothing better to do, I am grateful that I went off to the real world instead, sparing the world another unhappy lawyer and enabling me to find another calling. I can’t help noting that your c.v. indicates you graduated from college in 1983 and law school in 1987. If you took the usual three years for law school, that leaves you with a whole one year in the real world. Was that enough to make you a more engaged student?
    John Finn

  2. There is no reason to require work experience. Its pretty much worthless. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have interviews to judge the prospective student’s desire to enter the practice of law and their maturity.

    Oh, I guess not, its better to make sure they are sheep. Baa!!!

  3. JF: No.

    JS: I’ve interviewed hundreds and hundred of law students looking for jobs. Interviews don’t tell you much. I can tell in three minutes if a candidate is immature. It takes me at least a full summer, and perhaps longer, to tell whether they are mature enough to practice law.

    Worthless? Re-read the post. I don’t suggest two years of *work* experience. I suggest two years of experience *in the world.* Join the Peace Corps. Volunteer in a soup kitchen. Fight forest fires. Dig ditches. I don’t think that new law students should be required to work on Wall Street.

  4. Mike-

    I wholeheartedly agree with your perspective about requiring incoming law students to come in with some real world experience. I am currently a 2L, 33 years old, who worked in various capacities prior to attending law school. I cannot emphasize enough how frustrating it is in class to listen to other students hypothesize to no end because they lack real-life experience. The caliber of student is critical to his/her output as an attorney. It’s mind-boggling how law schools, law firms, and in turn students think that in a service focused industry, grades and class rank regin supreme. Total joke…I would never even want to contribute my time and energy to a firm with this mentality. This is why burnout is so high in this profession. I can’t help but imagine how many of my peers will be asking themselves in five years…”What’s it all about?”

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