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Two cheers for indetured servitude!

Yesterday, Mike asked the following question about legal education and the profession:

As I read these, they take as premise the proposition not merely that law schools should change how they teach because practice-based teaching is more effective, but that law schools need to fill a training gap created by the growing unwillingness of many law firms to train new lawyers themselves.

Why should that latter proposition be the case? It is reasonable to argue that clients should not be forced to bear the cost of training new lawyers. But why should the profession not expect law firm partners to shoulder that cost ­ rather than passing some or all of it back to law schools?

I think that part of the answer lies in the nature of the employment contract. Pushing the cost of training back on law schools is slighlty misleading. We are really talking about pushing the costs back onto students. One reason that law firms may be reticent about lavishing resources on the training of young lawyers is that they have few guarantees that they can recapture the upside of the training that they lavish. There are few ways of stopping young lawyers from taking the training and leaving for greener pastures, giving firms (and associates) an incentive to free-ride on the training provided.

Here, I think that it is useful to contrast the legal profession to the armed forces. The military spends an enormous amount of money training its recruits. On the other hand, the Army has much stronger remedies against employees who try to walk out on their employment contracts. Go AWOL and the MPs can track you down and throw you in the stockade. On the other hand, the system produces some superb training. For example, my understanding is that the airline industry is largely dependent on former military pilots to fly its jets. The reason is that to achieve the levels of proficiency that the airlines (and the FAA) demand a pilot must have an enormous number of flying hours, and as a practical matter it is nearly impossible for a student pilot to bear these costs individually. In other words, it is the remedial structure of the military contract that provides the intensive on-the-job training necessary to produce superbly trained pilots.

Perhaps we need something similar for lawyers. Apprenticeship indentures anyone?