Law school’s traditional educational model needs to be revamped. The traditional law firm’s summer associate model needs restructuring. Some might say they are both broken. Across the country, educators, and commentators are talking about legal education reforms and leading law firms are confronting how to improve the age-old mechanism for recruiting law students.
In the recent past, the legal employment landscape provided no incentive for law firms to question their traditional recruiting practices. The traditional law-firm recruitment model—the summer-associate program—is often little more than a glorified summer camp for some of the most highly educated—and debt-ridden—law students of our time. This summer-long social event often fails to provide students with a true depiction of life inside the law firm. Instead, the experience introduces the summer associate to isolated but “glamorous” aspects of legal matters, rather than assigning the students to perform necessary, but perhaps mundane, billable hours. Even in firms whose clients continue to allow them to bill for work performed by summer associates, a seasoned associate is often required to rework the majority of the student’s work or reduce or delete time spent by the student from the final bill.
The traditional summer-associate program historically emphasizes entertainment over providing the summer associate with a realistic experience of life inside a law firm. Law students and law schools are realizing that the apprentice stage of legal education should provide a more valuable, tangible experience. The students recently voiced their discontent in The American Lawyer’s 2012 Summer Associate Survey, which reveals the students’ desire to engage in legal work and to experience professional mentoring, while decreasing the number of over the top social events that are the norm.
The problem of wasted summer work opportunities is compounded by another phenomenon, discussed by Dean Daniel Rodriguez of Northwestern Law School, who has openly questioned the value of the third year of law school. Rodriguez asserts that law schools must do more to provide substantive experiences and exposure to real life legal matters to prepare their students for legal careers. Some law schools are catching on, while others have long integrated skills-based courses in their curriculums.
This article addresses The University of Tennessee’s Concentrations in Advocacy and Buiness and related programs, which seek to bring practice experience into law school, and Waller Lansden’s Schola2Juris program, which seeks to bring teaching about law and practice into its recruiting program. Both are coming at the same set of shortfalls of traditional legal education with substantially similar solutions, but from different ends of the legal job market.