Robert Condlin, ‘Practice Ready Graduates’: A Millennialist Fantasy”. Abstract:
The sky is falling on legal education say the pundits, and preparing “practice ready” graduates is the best strategy for surviving the fallout. This is a millennialist version of the argument for clinical legal education that dominated discussion in the law schools in the 1960s and 1970s. The circumstances are different now, as are the people calling for reform, but the two movements are alike in one respect: both view skills instruction as legal education’s primary purpose. Everything else is a frolic and detour, and a fatal frolic and detour in hard times such as the present.
No one would dispute that the United States legal system has a labor market problem, but law schools cannot revive the labor market, or improve the employment prospects of their graduates, by providing a different type of instruction. Placing students in jobs is a function of a school’s academic reputation, not its curriculum, and the legal labor market will rebound only after the market as a whole has rebounded (and perhaps not then). The cause of the present troubles is a lack of jobs, not a lack of graduates (of any kind), and producing more “practice ready” graduates will have no effect on the supply of jobs. The proposal is a spectacular non sequitur to the present troubles.
The concept of “practice ready” also is unintelligible and would be impossible to implement if it were not. There are as many different types of practice, for example, as there are levels of readiness for it and proponents of the proposal do not say which of these various possibilities (and combinations of possibilities), they have in mind. If the expression had a clear meaning, law schools still could not implement it because proficiency at practice depends upon dispositions (i.e., habits informed by reflection), and dispositions take longer than a law school course to develop. Like a lot of blog commentary, the “practice ready” proposal is more slogan than idea. Perhaps that is why it is so popular.
Not pulling any punches here, are we? Lest you think Prof. Condlin (whom I don’t know) is an Ivory tower guy or anti-clinic, here’s his official bio:
From 1969 to 1972, Professor Condlin was an assistant attorney general for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He represented the Commonwealth in several major lawsuits in state and federal court, including Massachusetts v. Laird, an original action in the United States Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Vietnam War, Sturgis v. Quinn, the state court precursor to the Supreme Court decision in Baird v. Bellotti, upholding a woman’s right to birth control, and Board of Appeals of Concord v. Housing Appeals Committee of the Department of Community Affairs, the first defense of an anti-snob zoning statute in the United States. He left the Attorney General’s office in 1972 to establish the Urban Legal Laboratory, a full-semester clinical program for students of Boston College Law School, run jointly with the Boston Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights. In 1974 he became a teaching fellow at Harvard Law School, where he taught and did graduate study in the field of clinical law. He left Harvard in 1976 to become associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, where he created that school’s clinical law program. He moved to Maryland in 1980. He has served as a consultant to the AALS Law Teachers Clinic and Clinical Teachers Training Conferences and to the Canadian Law Teachers Clinic and has taught at Indiana University Law School at Bloomington as a visiting professor
OK, a little ivory tower, maybe. But the paper sounds like it might be a useful corrective to certain over-enthusiasms.