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Tight Job Market Could Drive Legal Ed Reform

Publication Date: 
February 02, 2010
Law 360
Jocelyn Allison

Dean Larry Kramer discussed legal education reform underway at Stanford Law School with Law360 reporter Jocelyn Allison, who filed this report:

For years, law schools have talked about the need to provide students with more practical skills. Now, with the associate market at U.S. law firms contracting and competition for starting positions fiercer than ever, experts predict schools will put their money with their mouths are.

Law students who can hit the ground running after they graduate are bound to be more appealing to law firms, which have been forced to cut associate ranks and face a growing number of client who refuse to foot the bill for on-the-job training.


Some top law schools, Stanford Law School among them, preempted the need for more job-ready graduates, incorporating practical skills into their curriculum well before the bottom dropped out of the associate market during the recession.

“We all thought the recession would propel a lot more change, but I haven't actually seen much of it yet,” Stanford Law School dean Larry Kramer said. “I don't think that matters. I think the changes in legal education to make graduates of law school better able to hit the ground running were necessary anyway.”


In 2006, Stanford began revamping its 2L and 3L programs to include more cross-disciplinary learning and greater clinical opportunities. The changes were aimed in part at helping students learn more about the industries they would be serving upon graduation.

The school changed its academic calender from semesters to quarters to make it easier for students to take courses outside the law school, and created classes where law students work with those other graduate programs, such as engineering or environmental science, to solve real-world problems.

Stanford also expanded its joint-degree program to include 27 formal joint degrees, and created a “clinical rotation” in which students devote an entire quarter to working in a clinic, similar to the medical school system. Kramer said he hopes to make the clinical rotation a requirement.

“We're teaching them not just how to think like a lawyer, but to think like a client,” Kramer said.