A NEW LAW SCHOOL MISSION (via The Belly of the Beast)

What is the Mission of Law Schools?

Jerome Kowalski
Kowalski & Associates
May, 2011

Is the mission of a law school to create a turnkey associate for BigLaw firms?

On the occasion of the retirement of Dean David E. Van Zandt from a distinguished 30 year tenure as dean of Northwestern University of Law, noted Professor Stephen Harper, a noted litigator with 30 years of litigation experience at Kirkland & Ellis and now a noted author, columnist and adjunct professor of law at Northwestern University School of Law, raises a fundamental question regarding the purpose of a law school education, namely, what’s the point of a legal education? Or, put differently, what are the set of skills a law school should instill in its graduates in order to maximize their value to the profession?

Dean Van Zandt’s aspiration was to produce a generation of “Client Ready Law Graduates.” In attempting to reach that reach for that goal, Van Zandt solicited the views of major law firms and adjusted the law school’s curriculum accordingly.

Harper argues in the first of his two part series entitled Great Expectations Meet Painful Realities (published in the Seventh Circuit’s The Circuit Rider), that “law schools should never become mere producers of widgets for large law firm customers.”

Harper makes some salient points, too often ignored: First, only 15% of the nation’s lawyers practice in BigLaw. Second, he correctly notes that of those law school graduates who make the first cut and begin their professional lives in large law firms, the early drop-out rate of between 15% to 25%, while perhaps not as high as those training to become Navy SEALS, is clearly an indicator that either law schools are not churning out “client ready associates” or that law schools are failing to adequately prepare their student populations for the rigors and challenges of life as a BigLaw associate. More significantly, for those who do survive the training and rigors of life as a law firm associate, an increasingly smaller number reach that vaunted status of equity partner; indeed far smaller percentages of law firm associates make the cut from associate to equity partner, a far smaller percentage than make the cut form Navy SEAL to member of Navy SEAL Team 6 although the rigorous training and personal misery level needed to rise from law firm associate to law firm equity partner do bear some striking similarities.

As so many others, Harper rues the fact that law schools know the relevant facts and mightily resist disclosing the relevant facts to their students, while gaming their numbers as we previously noted in discussing the disappearing “merit scholarship” ( in the general proclivity of law schools to be far less than candid in making elementary disclosures to law student applicants and attendees ( )

The first part of Professor Harper’s piece can be found here and the link in his attached article.

We look forward to reading Steve Harper’s next installment in which he will address the myopia students and the profession as a whole are the victims of the deceptive and distracting focus on reported arbitrary, misleading and meaningless reported metrics.

What ails the profession and is there a cure? If you haven’t already seen it, you might want to take a look at Part I of my article, “Great Expectations Meet Painful Realities,” in the current issue of Circuit Rider. My latest contribution to the debate on the profession’s growing crisis begins on page 24 of the Seventh Circuit Bar Association’s semi-annual publication. Part II will appear in the fall issue. … Read More

via The Belly of the Beast


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