Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog ran an item on an honors program at the University of New Hampshre Law School. A study by something called the Institute for the Advancement of the American Legal System showed that students who graduated from UNH’s program outperformed other New Hampshire attorneys on “standardized client-interview assessments.”
Not surprisingly, Elie Mystal of above the law is not impressed. Mystal’s point basically comes down to “so what?” These UNH grads might be a little more practice-ready, but that’s not going to help them get good jobs. The high-paying jobs that enable deeply indebted law school graduates to pay off their loans are still going to go to top graduates from top schools, not people from some honors program at the University of New Hampshire.
I generally agree with Mystal. However, I don’t think a program like UNH’s is a total waste of time. Some UNH grads will get jobs practicing law, and they will probably perform better in those jobs if they have some practical training. You also have to consider the alternative. In my experience, a lot of law students don’t do much of anything in the second and third years. Many of them take courses they hear are easy in an effort to increase their GPAs. I recently met with an upper-level student who told me he chooses his classes based on the day of the week on which they are offered so he only has to commute from Palm Beach County one or two days a week. A lot of students are just passing time–and two years is a lot of time to pass–until they can get the hell out of here. If that’s the status quo, then getting some students to participate in a practice-ready program doesn’t seem like such a bad thing.
My other reaction to the WSJ article: what in the world is a standardized client-interview assessment? Is this really a thing? A lawyer interviews a (presumably fake) client and somebody gives that lawyer a score? And this is supposed to assess how practice-ready the lawyer is? Good grief. I think I did one client interview in six years practicing law. I guess it’s an important skill, but it’s an awfully random one to use to assess someone’s practice-readiness. I would think you would want to make the attorney write something, or research something, or analyze a legal issue. I’ve been out of the game for a while, but I’m pretty sure lawyers still do a lot of that stuff.