Does experiential learning in law school improve employability?

Should law schools change their curriculum to make graduates from JD programmes more practice ready?  Bear in mind that in the US we’re talking about the JD, and that there is no equivalent of the training contract in the US, so bar exams aside, this is the course that gets people ‘skiiled up for’ attorney positions.  One might assume that a move towards more experiential/skills based education in US law schools would lead to greater employability. So far though the evidence suggests not.   There’s an interesting US paper on just this issue: Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes? By Jason Webb Yackee, University of Wisconsin Law School.  If I can quickly excerpt from it you will get the drift:

This short paper provides an empirical examination of the link between law school experiential learning opportunities and JD employment outcomes.

…The basic idea is that by increasing opportunities for skills learning, law schools will produce graduates who are closer to being “practice-ready” (another concept to emerge in the crisis-related debates), and that law firms will be more likely to hire those graduates than they have been to hire graduates who pursued a traditional curriculum.

[Alternatively]…We can imagine a contrasting but nonetheless plausible story that would go something like this: law firms and their clients don’t actually take skills training into account when deciding whether to hire (or to pay for work by) young associates.

Firms tend to rely overwhelmingly on simplifying heuristics when deciding where to interview (primarily, a law school’s national reputation; perhaps also geographic proximity to the firm) and who to hire (primarily law school GPA; perhaps also moot court or law review selection; probably the candidate’s poise in the interview). Those heuristics may even be “rational” in a sense. A focus on law school reputation may provide law firms (which may be risk averse in hiring) with a low cost and fairly reliable signal of a job candidate’s capacity to do legal work, and of his or her desire to do it.

Before presenting the study’s research design and findings, the reader should understand that I neither aim to show, nor does the paper claim, that experiential learning is wasteful, misguided, or otherwise undesirable.

Finally, let me emphasize that the present study is presented as suggestive, and its conclusions tentative.

And the results of the study?

To summarize the paper’s key finding: there is no statistical relationship between law school opportunities for skills training and JD employment outcomes. In contrast, employment outcomes do seem to be strongly related to law school prestige.

Go figure.

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About Richard Moorhead

Director of the Centre for Ethics and Law and Professor of Law and Professional Ethics at the Faculty of Laws, University College London with an interest in teaching and research on the legal ethics, the professions, legal aid, access to justice and the courts.
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3 Responses to Does experiential learning in law school improve employability?

  1. Avrom Sherr says:

    Ho Ho.

    I heavily suspect that there might be a relationship between commercial firms not happy with, or not interested in, law students doing clinic for the poor.

    A

    ________________________________

  2. dbfamilylaw says:

    How many readers know what JD stands for?

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