The blogosphere has been lighting up with reactions over the recent New York Times Op-Ed by Lawrence Mitchell, Dean of the Case Western Reserve University School of Law: Law School is Worth the Money. Mitchell writes:
For at least two years, the popular press, bloggers and a few sensationalist law professors have turned American law schools into the new investment banks. We entice bright young students into our academic clutches. Succubus-like, when we’ve taken what we want from them, we return them to the mean and barren streets to fend for themselves.
The hysteria has masked some important realities and created an environment in which some of the brightest potential lawyers are, largely irrationally, forgoing the possibility of a rich, rewarding and, yes, profitable, career.
Paul Campos immediately countered in Salon with Too Many Lawyers? Says Who?, where he dissects and refutes Mitchell’s op-ed paragraph by paragraph (mostly with data from sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics sprinkled with a bit of Campos-style commentary). Some highlights:
people to spend $200,000 for a 50/50
shot at a legal job of any kind is getting harder every day. ...
Fifty-three percent of the 2011 graduates of Mitchell’s law school did not obtain full-time long-term jobs requiring a law degree. Hesitating to spend three years pursuing a degree which produces worse than coin-flip odds of getting any job for which the degree qualifies those who get it to perform is not irrational. ...
Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.
Most (all?) of the bloggers weighing in seem to fall into the Campos-camp. See, for example, Elie Mystal @ Above the Law, Alison Monahan @ A Girl’s Guide to Law School, Abby Rogers @ Business Insider, Matt Leichter @ The Law School Tuition Bubble, and Graham Martin @ The Lawyerist.
But whether you agree with Mitchell or Campos, I believe the lesson for law students (and recent grads or mid-career attorneys) is this: An essential skill for lawyering success is being entrepreneurial.
As with any industry in transition, changes in the delivery of legal services create opportunities as well as challenges. Creative, innovative and entrepreneurial lawyers will find ways to capitalize on this.
Campos translates this as:
If you fail, it’s your fault.
Neither embraces the implicit conclusion of his position, however, though it is one I have been advocating for a while now. In Cultivating Learners Who Will Invent the Future of Law Practice: Some Thoughts on Educating Entrepreneurial and Innovative Lawyers, I argue that it is the responsibility of law schools to provide training for our students on how to be entrepreneurial (and I don't mean giving legal advice to entrepreneurs).
For example, next semester, we'll be offering at Michigan State a new course--Entrepreneurial Lawyering--teaching skills in entrepreneurship to create solutions to the problems that Mitchell, Campos, and others have been talking about for some time, i.e. the enormous untapped market for legal services (everyone who can’t afford a lawyer at three-figures-an-hour but doesn’t qualify for legal aid) and the increasing number of un(der)employed lawyers. Students will tackle this dilemma in start-up mode. Among other endeavors, each student must create a business plan and give a presentation pitch for an innovative model to deliver legal services.
The Entrepreneurial Lawyering course is supported by ReInvent Law, the law lab devoted to technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship in legal services that I co-founded with my colleague Daniel Martin Katz earlier this year. We started the lab because we were tired of talking (and writing) about the problems faced by legal education and the profession. We want to actively build solutions.
So we are very much in start-up mode ourselves, as we apply an entrepreneurial approach to legal ed by launching ReInvent Law. (Or, as some might say, an 'intra'preneurial approach.) Check out this 5-minute video for more on ReInvent Law's work.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether Mitchell is right or Campos is right. The solution is the same. Our law students need to be thinking about entrepreneurship and innovation in legal services. For more of my thoughts in this vein, see this recent Bloomberg Law article.