Monday, May 23, 2011
Bring Back Apprenticeships
Gerard N. Magliocca
I've read Brian's posts on the escalating costs of legal education with interest, as the debt burden that law schools impose on our students is an issue that many people are concerned about. I'm not an administrator, so I'm not sure that I have a good handle on what should be done, but here is one idea that is worth discussing: the revival of apprenticeships as an alternative to law school.
In the course of a research project on the 1850s in Boston and the abolitionist movement, I learned something about legal apprenticeships. Apparently there were limited standards on such in MA. Local bar associations established some rules, including in Boston, limiting the number of apprenticeships an attorney might have at any one time, not for the sake of the apprentices necessarily but to limit the stream of new attorneys that might create a glut of attorneys to the detriment of those then in practice. Lysander Spooner studied the law and through his challenge in 1836, the Supreme Judicial Court revised some of its rules that had benefitted law school grads over apprentices on admissions to practice. It is important to point out that apprentices performed scut work for their mentors and also often paid the mentor, creating a profit center for the mentor.
So bringing back apprenticeships would need some ground rules to protect not only the apprentices and the integrity of the bar, but also the public. This might fit into a states rights situation, involving the state government through its courts and legislation, which might result in potential apprentices states shopping.
I may have more comments later on, as this is an interesting subject. Hopefully we won't end up with a reality TV show on the subject in the manner of Donald Trump.
My, my. That is a shot across the bow of the progressive credentialed monopoly model.
In an age where hair stylists are licensed in the name of consumer protection, I think you are facing a bit of an uphill fight.
"My, my. That is a shot across the bow of the progressive credentialed monopoly model."
sounds like a shot from a wanna-be libertarian. Was it progressives that started law schools? Were bar associations the product of progressives?
Andrew from Africa. Is there such an under-supply of lawyers that its vital to ensure that large numbers continue to join the profession?
I am from a British Commonwealth jurisdiction that requires apprenticeships, known at the time by appropriately Dickensian title of "Articles of Clerkship". Apprenticeship is required for all aspirant attorneys, two years for those who have a law degree, five for those without a law degree. It would be good to take a hard look at systems like this before concluding that apprenticeships teach anyone anything. It may have been that in times past when attorneys saw themselves as engaged in an honorable profession that they ensured that their charges learned something.
Attorneys who understand themselves as in a ruthless market driven competition focused on the bottom line do not prove to be good teachers. Apprentices are made to perform work that does not prepare them for the profession.
Are apprenticeships about practical skills? Sure, if your idea of practical skills is learning how to drive around town delivering documents, fetching the bosses car from the body shop,
None of it prepares apprentices to be good lawyers. And Bar exams don't change that. They are, after all just exams and whether one has a law degree or not the best preparation for them is a preparation course.
Here is where the comparison with jurisdictions that require apprenticeships is useful again. They mostly require that those who are going to take bar exams must complete a preparation course for the bar exam. This shows that apprenticeships aren't very useful as preparation for bar exams. Of course one can counter that bar exams aren't very good indicators of whether someone has the skills necessary to practice as an attorney. But there is no empirical evidence from jurisdictions that require apprenticeships that they prepare participants to be better attorneys.
Instead it might be more useful to take another look at bar exams and discuss how they could better reflect whether one has the skills to practice.
I understand that NJ required not only a law degree and a bar exam, but an apprenticeship for a year or so with a practicing attorney before being permitted to practice law. This goes back to the late 1950s when I met while in the military several fellow draftee attorneys from NJ.
With regard to law office training, John Adams was so trained in the office of a prominent attorney but Adams complained that the latter did not spend much time or effort with him, such that he learned from extensive reading on his own. There were no uniform standards.
BD: "My, my. That is a shot across the bow of the progressive credentialed monopoly model."
Shag: Was it progressives that started law schools? Were bar associations the product of progressives?
Law schools predated progressivism.
Requirements that lawyers attend certified law schools and take bar exams are definitely progressive policies.
If we're open to radical changes, why not bring back a bachelor's degree in law? A state school -- San Jose State, for example -- could permit students to study law, just as they might study accounting or business. We'd see far more socio-economic diversity, far less debt, and a more democratic path to the bar. I know that the ABA accredited schools would be the big losers if we opened up a second path to the law, but the public could be a big winner.
For this answer to my query:
"Requirements that lawyers attend certified law schools and take bar exams are definitely progressive policies."
I would ask for supporting cites. The ABA and Boston Bar Association were quite conservative back in the 1950s and previously, when both certifications of law schools and bar exams were established.
JohnSteele's comment on a radical change might suggest legal training as a trade school. For quite a few years, there were law schools that required no college for admission. Here in MA, that was the case until the early 1940s. There then were established pre-legal studies of two-years for admission to law school, expanded to a college degree in the late 1960s early 1970s. One of the goals seemed to be to control the increasing number of admissions to the bar post WW II, as practicing attorneys were a rather conservative bunch protective of their own pocketbooks. (Some have compared this to the medical profession.)
I think the apprenticeship model is a really good idea. With fewer lawyers burdened with huge student loans, these attorney's would have more freedom to afford to serve people who are currently underrepresented in our society.
In a few years, when I am eligible, I might consider taking on some apprentices in my practice here in California.
Andrew said ...
"Attorneys who understand themselves as in a ruthless market driven competition focused on the bottom line do not prove to be good teachers."
Law professors who understand themselves to be in a ruthless academic market where professional advancement and reputation are tied exclusively to scholarly production don't prove to be good teachers either.
"Apprentices are made to perform work that does not prepare them for the profession. Are apprenticeships about practical skills? Sure, if your idea of practical skills is learning how to drive around town delivering documents, fetching the bosses car from the body shop,
None of it prepares apprentices to be good lawyers."
The same can be said of being a research assistant, bluebooking law review articles, taking extremely time constrained issue spotting exams, participating in Socratic method dialog, etc.
"And Bar exams don't change that. They are, after all just exams and whether one has a law degree or not the best preparation for them is a preparation course."
I agree. The bar exams are completely worthless no matter what preceded them. I see them as little different than hazing.
This is an issue that actually arose between some friends recently. In Virginia there's actually a "law reader" program that serves as a 3 year apprenticeship. I believe several other states have similar programs.
As I understand it, you can't accept pay during the period of the law apprenticeship -- which opens to door for abuse, and which undoubtedly limits the pool that is likely to be willing and able to participate in that kind of program -- but it still is a less expensive route than going to law school.
Law readers don't pass the bar at the same rate, but some still do.
The consensus that the friends came to was that the only truly essential year in law school is the first year. Formal law school training gives a person a nice broad base to work from, but the apprenticeship allows a person to hit the ground running much faster in whatever specialization he or she ends up going into.
Additionally, if you're going into a small family practice instead of a large corporate law firm, there are additional challenges associated with running a small business that you need to know. Hands on experience under those circumstances is likely to be an even greater asset.
JPRS2010 has a good idea. A program that gave students one year of academic legal training, plus two years of an apprenticeship type experience seems like it would prepare students better at a lower cost. Worth a try, anyway.
Before becoming too enamored with apprenticeship, focus on the lawyer-mentor side. I've been in private practice since 1954 and had a good law practice. Looking back, I wonder if I could have devoted sufficient time to mentor an apprentice and maintain my practice, financial and family commitments. For me the law was indeed a jealous mistress. So commenters favoring apprenticeships who have been actively practicing law, give us some idea of the balancing required to maintaining a profitable practice and personal, family life. Yes, large law firms might be able to do this by passing on the apprenticeship costs to their clients by way of fees, but a solo or small partnership might not be able to do so.
And the other side of the coin is that of the apprentice. How can he/she be assured that the mentor lawyer is actually capable and committed to the requisite training unless there are standards established? And who would establish and enforce the standards?
For in the end, the goal is to train lawyers who will be qualified to serve their clients. Presumably for transparency purposes an apprenticeship-trained lawyer would disclose the apprenticeship arrangement to clients.
Bradley, I am glad that we are agreed on the worthlessness of Bar exams.
You also make a great point when you refer to how law professors are also too market driven. If you think that law professors are too market driven to teach as well as they could then you will agree with me that that situation won't be remedied by
As someone who has experienced both law school and apprenticeship I can vouch that
"being a research assistant, bluebooking law review articles, taking extremely time constrained issue spotting exams, participating in Socratic method dialog, etc." were, however inadequate much much more useful to legal practice than experience as a messenger, copy machine mechanic, typist etc which is what one gets as an apprentice.
According to the Economist "After a dozen years of growth, employment in America’s law industry, the world’s biggest, has declined for the past three years."Post a Comment
So I would ask who apprenticeships would benefit? Who in the legal profession would benefit from cheap, lower skilled labour?