What's wrong with law school?

November 29, 2004

In the latest installment of Five by Five at the [non]billable hour, five law students (well, four students and one recent graduate) discuss What five things would you change about legal education?

Like Jeremy, Anthony and Wings&Vodka, I would change are the OCI recruiting processes.

Many law students obtain their post-graduate jobs during the On-Campus Interview (OCI) programs during the fall of their second year, when large firms and government agencies hire for the following summer. The vast majority of summer associates in Biglaw get offers for post-graduate employment, potentially freeing the law student from job searching for the entire second half of their legal education. Because of this, many critics of legal education suggest cutting back the program to two years from three.

Because the OCI recruiting process is so heavily grade-driven (especially at a "second-tier" school like Brooklyn), students are recruited based entirely on their first-year grades.

During the first semester of school, students fly nearly completely blind and get little, if any, feedback about performance, yet the first semester grades are disproportionately important in developing the professional career. On the other hand, perhaps the first semester grades should be the most important, because they indicate how adept students are at quick learning.

First, grade the first semester traditionally to the students, but officially report the grades on a pass-fail basis. This allows students the opportunity to get feedback and learn from their mistakes, but to the detriment of students who master the art of Getting to Maybe quickly. Alternatively, require professors to give midterms during the first semester in order to have some kind of feedback mechanism.

Second, prohibit employers from recruiting first and second year students for no more than one semester in advance or until the calendar year in which they will be employed. This moves OCI from the fall of second year to the 2L spring, requires employers to base decisions on 3, rather than 2, semesters of grades, and gives all students the opportunity to delve into specialized areas of practice (through clinics or classes) and develop a better writing sample than those from first year legal writing classes. It also moves the hiring timeline for Biglaw more in line with small firms, public interest and government hiring.

To be effective, either of these proposals would have to be mandated by the ABA, otherwise there is a collective action problem (employers would tend to favor schools who let them recruit early in order to pick the best candidates and prefer those schools who provide complete grade information).

Posted by Andrew Raff at November 29, 2004 09:47 PM
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