MBA task force to study law school effectiveness

Issue October 2011 By by Jennifer Rosinski

A new task force formed by Massachusetts Bar Association President Richard P. Campbell will examine whether law schools need to be overhauled to fully prepare their students for jobs in the legal profession.

"Law schools do not prepare their graduates for practice, and the three-year model is unduly expensive and broken," Campbell said.

Campbell decided to form the task force in response to law school graduates having difficulty finding jobs in the struggling economy. This is the fourth consecutive year of bleak job prospects.

"Many individuals in this debt-ridden, lost generation of recent law school graduates are turning to solo practice without either prior experience or access to mentors," Campbell said. "Practical problems ensue. Clients are poorly served; incivility abounds; established practitioners experience a decline in revenue coupled with an increase in transactional expenses."

The task force is co-chaired by: MBA Criminal Justice Section Vice Chair Radha Natarajan, a public defender with the Committee for Public Counsel Services in Somerville; and Eric J. Parker, co-founder and managing partner of Parker Scheer LLP in Boston. The official name of the task force and its full membership is still being developed.

Parker said the current crisis in the legal professional has several key points, including an overabundance of attorneys, a dwindling need for lawyers, law school graduates dealing with more than $100,000 in debt and law schools continuing to sell their product.

"You've got this undeniable oversupply. Law schools are feeding more lawyers into a system that has no demand," Parker said. "What are the strategies for managing this? It's heartbreaking."

The oversupply of newly minted lawyers who cannot land a job is a problem that has widespread consequences, Parker said. Many of those new lawyers, he said, are setting up their own law offices completely unsupervised and with no experience practicing law or handling a case.

"It's going to impact the judiciary. It's going to impact the community," Parker said. "It's a very serious problem."

Among the topics Campbell has asked the task force to investigate are:

  • Responsibility for law schools to fully inform prospective students hailing from Massachusetts on the costs of attending and the likelihood of gainful employment (i.e., will the cost be worth incurring?);
  • Responsibility for law schools to fully educate students on bar examination topics such that an additional $6,000 in bar review costs are not added to a $150,000 tuition bill at the end of three years;
  • The timing of bar examinations, as the topics are taught in the first two or three semesters of law school but the examination is delayed until the end of three years (and at a cost of another $75,000 to $100,000);
  • The potential for issuing limited licenses to practice law, possibly after one year of formal law school, followed by formal mentoring over a four- or five-year period that leads to a plenary license to practice;
  • The financial impact of tuition costs on availability of a career in the law to new immigrants (i.e., the conversion of legal practice to a profession only for elites, as with barristers in the United Kingdom);
  • The impact of a grossly oversaturated profession on the quality of legal services for the average citizen (i.e., inexperienced lawyers hanging shingles and rendering poor-quality services; high-quality lawyers driven out of the profession by declining incomes, etc.).