National Jurist Magazine for Nov. 2010 features a really interesting article by William D. Henderson, professor at I.U., Bloomington, "Why the job market is changing." If you follow the link to the online version of the free magazine that is likely sitting in your law school lobbies right now, you can read it free by registering. They are pretty good about not flooding your mailbox, if you are careful about how you register. Unfortunately, the blog posts I see around the internet only feature the short version of the article that is all you get without registering. There is more and it's worth reading the whole article.
Henderson not only reviews the recent (big) law firm hiring model, which relied on pedigree and grades, and concludes that it has never done a particularly good job of predicting who would be a really good lawyer. He observes that the current economic climate is encouraging in-house counsel and other cost-conscious clients to incentivize (great word!) the large firms to rethink this model. That is, they are forcing them to lay off massive numbers of less-productive associates and even partners, and to radically re-think how they hire and bring along the next generation in their firms. They can no longer hire large numbers of associates each year with the expectation that they could train them and winnow them at client expense. And finally, Henderson notes that traditional law school is particularly poor at teaching the skills and behaviors needed to form a lawyer who is going to rise to the top of the current scrum: "...indeed, your typical law professor is completely unqualified to serve as your jungle guide."
You nailed it, Prof. Henderson! But the rest of the article is well worth reading and that is what all the excited blawgers missed with their short posts. Henderson reviews the history and notes that what we have recently thought of as "traditional" is really post- WWII. After putting our period into a bit of historical perspective, he does a terrific job of reviewing the big picture version of what happened with the economic melt-down and its effect on the legal job market. But then he offers some actual data, from his own research:
In 2007 and 2008, 46 percent of all entry-level associates at an AmLaw 100 law firm were graduates of a Top 14 law school (the composition of the top 14 law schools in the U.S. News rankings has not changed in 20 years). Yet, during this same period, 30 percent of lawyers promoted to partner were from Top 14 schools. Further, as of 2009, only 35 percent of general counsels for a Fortune 500 company had graduated from a Top 14 school. This suggests that the advantage of higher test scores and academic pedigree diminishes rather than compounds over time -- at least for partnership or general counsel positions.He explains a study by Professors Marjorie Schultz and Shelton Zedeck of the University of California-Berkeley, who applied 26 factors needed to be a successful attorney to create an assessment tool. They offered the tool to peers and supervisors to assess a large sample of students and lawyers who graduated either from U.C. Berkeley or from U.C. Hastings. They then compared the results to the individuals' LSAT, undergraduate GPA and first year grades, to see what sort of correlation they found between these usual measures of academic ability and the new measures of lawyering aptitude.
Depending upon the sample, between two and eight of the 26 factors were meaningfully correlated with the academic credentials. The best positive predictions were for skills taught in law schools, such as Analysis and Reasoning, Researching Law, Writing and Problem Solving.Professor Henderson suggests that large law firms, along with other employers will be moving away from this current/most recent model of "law school hierarchy." He notes that findings from the After the JD study show that large firm associates hired from Top 10 law schools report high levels of dissatisfaction, and are more likely to leave. Associates at the same firms hired from "regional" law schools are more satisfied and more likely to stay in their positions. He also notes that firms are becoming more and more pressured to develop their business markets, and that requires hiring "...intelligent, creative, adaptable, highly motivated graduates who have a passion for client service." Law firms will increasingly move to using the sorts of behavioral interviews, personality tests, and simulated group work that other businesses have used successfully for some time to hire successful management candidates.
Yet, some of the correlations were negative. For the lawyers in the study, LSAT and first-year grades were negatively correlated with Networking and Community Service. For law students, undergraduate GPA was negatively correlated with Practical Judgment, Ability to See the World through the Eyes of Others, and Developing Relationships. In contrast, the vast majority of the 26 success factors correlated with personality and situational judgment tools that are commonly used in business.
Law schools need to start treating the practice of law as a business. They need to take the ABA reports that call for more practical skills seriously. The major bars to this change have been faculty reluctance to change from podium/substantive classes which have dominated law school since Dean Langdell's day, and the bar exams which really do govern what law schools decide to teach. It's very difficulty for a board of bar examiners to devise a realistic and objective test of a skill like drafting or research, and so they have left it very much with the legal analysis in the form of the essay exams based on the law school classes, and writing based on those same essays, not on filings or drafting that a practicing lawyer would do. It means that our students graduate without knowing how to draft wills, or write a complaint or answer one. They have to learn all that after they pass the bar. Which always seemed pretty crazy to me. And that's what the economy is forcing to change. The law schools that can change with it will be at the forefront of a new era, and their students will be very lucky, indeed.