2013 in Review: Two Trends in Law Schools

Two major trends have emerged over the past year in law schools around the country: (1) schools are piloting programs for students and grads to gain experience in-house, and (2) the ABA is now reconsidering implementing a practical skills requirement.

First, according to a December 2 National Law Journal article by Karen Sloan, schools like schools like Yeshiva University’s Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, University of Colorado Law School, and Northeastern University School of Law are teaming up with companies like Diamonds International, Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Bank of New York Mellon, and Consolidated Edison where companies hire alums and recent grads on a one year, temporary basis at an affordable salary (i.e. around $40,000). As Sloan points out, this goes against “a prevalent notion that new lawyers don’t belong in-house”, as “legal departments have traditionally shied away from hiring green lawyers and training law students, preferring instead to hire laterally from law firms”. However, working with tighter budgets and an increased hesitancy due to the lingering recession, the appeal for companies is growing stronger. The appeal for students and alums is even more obvious. Such programs afford young lawyers the opportunity to build their skillsets and resumes at a younger age and experience level than has long been the norm. Moreover, there is great potential for companies and candidates alike to discern whether the match could be a long-term fit.

Second, law schools are also closely following developments with the American Bar Association. The ABA is currently considering whether to require that students complete up to 15 hours of “practical skills” credit hours. The general idea, like that of the pilot programs for gaining in-house experience, is to better equip and prepare students for whatever legal environment or area of law they choose to enter upon graduation. The State Bar of California approved such a mandate in October, and it is slated to go into effect in 2015. According to Karen Sloan in a December 9 NLJ article, such a policy would revise a plan which the ABA tentatively endorsed in back in August. That plan brought up for consideration 6 credits of “real-world experience”. However, Sloan goes on to say that since that time “the council has backtracked somewhat, agreeing to seek public comment on an alternative proposal to bump the requirement of 15 credits of clinics, simulation courses or externships.”

These trends, together with the overall decline in law school applications, make it clear that the landscape is shifting for law schools, students, and potential applicants as they face the new realities of the legal industry.

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