It is not surprising that President Obama wants to decrease the cost of higher education and make it more affordable for the average American family. Nor is it surprising that he floated the idea of decreasing cost by decreasing the number of years a law student has to PAY for school as reported by the New York Times here. Without a full understanding of all the issues, that often appears to be a sensible idea. What is surprising is that the President confuses unpaid interning with a “clinical experience.” As we know from the medical and other professional settings, clinical experience is NOT the same as allowing barely trained law students to “HAVE AT IT” in a practice setting. Nor is every environment appropriate for clinical training and supervision. The whole point of “clinical education” is supervision, feedback, mentoring, and learning to learn from observation, experience and mistakes.
Another problem with the President’s “shoot from the hip” comment, is that the very reason that new law students can’t find jobs is the same reason today’s law firms are NOT appropriate for the kind of mentoring which was done in days of yore. As a member of the New York State Task Force on the Future of the Legal Profession and a chair of the Education and Training Subcommittee, I learned from legal employers and their clients that the market-driven, competitive nature of private industry today has created a situation in which clients no longer want to pay for the on-the-job training of new attorneys. More senior attorneys are so tightly time-managed relative to billable hours that they have significantly less hours and energy to mentor, supervise and help form new attorneys. That’s where law schools have added value for graduates and provided the support and individual attention that tomorrow’s lawyers need through clinical programs (both in-house and in the field). If the President wants to add his significant heft to this debate, he should do so in a more nuanced and effective manner than making an off the cuff comment.
Filed under: Best Practices & Curriculum, Best Practices for Institutional Effectiveness, Uncategorized Tagged: | clinical legal education, experiential learning, law students, legal education, legal education reform, Obama