Law schools do a horrible job preparing the aspiring young (and old) student for the vibrant practice of law. In fact, law schools may do more harm than good in many respects. I’ve been doing some reading on how some have thought to make law school a better launching pad for attorneys-to-be. Here’s the run-down of my big three:
1. Make a Post-college Waiting Period Mandatory. This would help. Too many fresh college grads go directly to law school without much work experience. They finish law school by the time they turn 25 or 26 years old. That’s too young. Without a solid base of life experience, helping people with their legal problems at age 25 is . . . well, problematic. Attorneys in their 30’s are generally more prepared to handle the stress of life, the stress of law practice, and the stress of helping others with complicated legal matters. A mandatory post-college gap of say, 5 years, would give the 20-somethings more time to figure life out before being asked to assist others figure life out. The gap would also give folks time to save money to address the financial issue that follows.
2. Stop Unlimited Loaning to Law School Students. Most law school graduates enter the professional world with too much debt. Our debt controls the type of job we must have in order to successfully repay it. It controls where we go and what we can do. For the new law school grad, debt is a ball-and-chain, sometimes dragging them down for decades to come. I’d say the typical debt load for a new graduate is any where between 100k and 150K. My goodness, that’s enough to purchase a nice starter house almost anywhere. Controlling the money law students can borrow, say about 75k (depending on tuition costs), would go far to help new lawyers get off on the right foot, not heavily burdened by monthly loan payments.
3. Make Law Schools Two Years Plus. Three years of law school classes, being hammered by uptight professors in the Socratic Method of teaching law, does not prepare students to earn a living practicing law. Two years is plenty to teach students how to read cases, statutes, and how to “think” like lawyers. The third year could be composed of more practical training like taking depositions, interviewing clients, and practicing law under a 3rd year bar card. The third year could also be used to teach students how to set-up a law practice (called a business) and how to run it effectively.
These issues are important to me as I see many aspiring lawyers-to-be come through my office looking for insight, experience, and a helping hand. My top three pointers are get some life experience, control your debt, and learn how to run a business. I trust they take my advice to heart, since it’s their success that means the most to me.
Stephen Gustitis is a criminal defense lawyer in Bryan-College Station. He is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He is also a husband, father, and retired amateur bicycle racer.