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Law Schools Finally Responding to Down Economy, Starting to Help Students Prepare for Solo Practice

December 9, 2011

I’ve commented previously on the nationwide lawyer surplus. One effect it has had is to make small beautiful. Partners from big law firms have left to go small. A lot of young lawyers, without many appealing employment opportunities— especially because entry-level law jobs are the hardest to get and many young lawyers don’t job hunt effectively—have begun to go solo. Some of those young lawyers are going small or solo after leaving big firms. Some have been laid off, some are exiting because making partner has become a rarity; others might have been inclined towards solo practice before have been encouraged by the current trend towards smaller, nimbler and cheaper. Of course, we’ve been on top of this, featuring advice from successful solos Doug Greenberg and Evan Aidman (and both have new posts coming soon).

Christopher Columbus Langdell, dean of Harvard Law School in the late 19th century, pioneered the case method as a means of elevating the scholarly profile of legal academia. Although it does little to prepare attorneys for the practical aspects of lawyering, it still predominates in law school curricula.

Law schools have been slow to react, but some are adapting to the new realities of the legal profession. In just the last few years, a handful of law schools have begun to ramp up their efforts to support students in preparing for solo practice, with strong encouragement from the ABA, whose powerful accreditation committee has shown a little life lately. CUNY, the first to establish a “solo practice incubator,” has an explicit public service mission and a history of churning out community-oriented attorneys. Georgetown, with its pre-eminent clinical program and Jesuit ethos, has long maintained a stand-alone public interest career office, but now has added career support for young solos, including a solo practice blog. Other law schools making moves in this area include several state schools as well as some lesser known private schools that may be fighting for relevancy or even their very survival. Whatever the case, it’s an encouraging trend—even if a distressingly slow-moving one—in legal education.

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