The Limitations of Legal Education
Unlike the combination of medical school and residency, most law schools do not prepare graduates for the practice of law. Becoming skillful at a learned profession requires both technical knowledge and judgment, which take time and practice to develop. The problem is the short duration of law school and the absence of a legal equivalent to medical residency training. There are no prerequisites for law school admission, beyond a college degree in any subject. Law school training is usually three years, excluding summers. If the school offers a summer program, it is possible to finish in just over two years. In contrast, medical students are expected to take some medical science–related courses before medical school. Most medical schools are four years, including all but one summer, making basic medical education almost twice as long as legal education. Graduates must then complete at least one more year of residence training before licensure in most states, and the vast majority goes on for several more years of specialty training. Law students get the “basic sciences” and a smattering of classroom-based “clinical education.” They get almost no intensive, problem-oriented clinical experience. The parallel would be licensing physicians and putting them into unsupervised practice after the basic science phase of medical school. Even law schools with extensive clinical education programs expose law students to clients with only simple legal problems.
This model of education is based on the assumption that law school graduates will go to work for large law firms who will train the new lawyers and supervise their work. It is not clear that this was ever valid for the majority of law school graduates, but it is certainly not true now. Even the big firms no longer have significant, supervised in- house training. While law schools are aware of the problem and are seeking ways to correct it, any changes will take years to implement. This is partially due to the inertia that affects all higher education, and partly due to the lack of incentives from the community to profoundly change legal education.