No one wants to sound like the proverbial “broken record,” including me. However, the drum beat of change in the legal profession grows louder by the day. A recent article in the Atlantic gathers additional data trends about the future of law which are neither encouraging nor pleasant, albeit totally predictable.
Jordan Weissman writes of the expected downturn in law school applications and LSAT testing which are accompanying the increasingly poor prognosis for the future of law as a profession. See: The Bloom is Off the Rose. The unexpected consequence of the falloff in interest in a legal education is among the highest level of student candidates. Weissman writes:
Here’s the take away: The number of students applying who probably have no business going to law school has dropped the least. The number of students applying who probably should apply to law school has dropped the most.
The data is as revealed in the following table:
The students most likely to succeed in law school are not applying! It is argued that the obvious outcome of this trend will be that the practice of law is now attracting those least likely to excel in the profession.
However, as gloomy as these trends might be, there are bright spots of innovation out there. The National Association of Legal Professionals (NALP) annually awards its innovation and leadership award to law firms that are changing the face of the practice of law for the better.
This week at its annual conference in Austin, Texas, NALP will award its innovation and leadership award to my alma mater Waller Lansden Dortch and Davis PLLC and Kathleen Pearson, a colleague and now the Director of Administration for the Pillsbury Wintrop Shaw Pittman law firm. Pillsbury is relocating its back office operations to Nashville and recruited Kathleen to oversee the relocation and the management of the consolidation of finance, technology, marketing, human resources and benefits services. It’s obvious why Pillsbury wanted Kathleen to join their team.
While at Waller, Kathleen successfully created and implemented a novel approach to new lawyer on-boarding. In collaboration with Vanderbilt University Law School, Kathleen developed a novel third year program for law students interested in practicing law in one of Waller’s highly regarded practice areas. On a relatively full time basis, these top students serve a working clerkship which both prepares them to practice law and apply the law school education to their professional development prior to graduation. A meaningful learning and professional development opportunity replaced the costly and low potential summer clerkship experience law firms traditionally used to recruit high quality law students.
As the economic demographics of the changing business of law continue to impact the declining appeal of law school for the best students, programs like the one developed by Kathleen at Waller will change the way great students choose their law school, their law firm and the practice of law as a career.