Among all the talk about law school reform, such as cutting tuition, or maybe freezing tuition, or at least limiting tuition hikes to no more than double the rate of inflation, there has been little serious discussion about what law schools or the practicing bar can do to help people who have already graduated and are now either unemployed or under-employed, and either way are likely permanently shut out of the legal profession, but still have their legal profession entry fees to pay off.
Colorado Judge John Kane has floated a basic principle that would actually provide relief to not only future graduates but also current young lawyers.
However formal or informal it might be, the law as a profession is a guild with an obligation to provide pupillage, apprenticeship and journeyman status to its members.[...]
I have a modest suggestion that all law school alumni associations and all bar associations stop giving money to law schools and instead direct their largesse to assisting law graduates with student loan repayments and otherwise repair the damage being caused by the law school glut. [Simple Justice]
Of course, law firms (and some government agencies and non-profits) do already provide a great deal of on the job training for newly minted lawyers. The difference between the current market and what Judge Kane appears to be talking about is that there is an obligation to train new lawyers.
I'm going to leap off from Kane's comments and propose a way that obligation might actually be fulfilled. In Canada, junior lawyers have an articling requirement. Basically, they have to serve as lowly legal clerks for a year before being admitted to the bar. But there is no correlating requirement on the practicing bar to hire articling clerks. In fact, law firms are so resistant towards hiring recent grads that there is an articling crisis, and the Canuckistani bar is considering dropping the requirement.
That seems to me like a terrible fix. If articling is an important part of legal training, and there aren't enough positions, the solution isn't to ditch the requirement, it's to create more positions. And now our proposal:
Every attorney with at least 15 years of experience would be required to oversee 900 hours of paid work by an attorney with fewer than 5 years of experience, or attorneys returning to the profession who have not been practicing for 3 of the past 5 years. The hour requirement would be on a two year cycle, meaning an attorney could hire a junior associate part-time for two years, doing 900 hours per year, or 1800 hours for one year, and no hours the next. Hours could carry over for a number of years to allow for a full time pupillage of several year.
Experienced attorneys with a pupil would also be required to provide 1 hour of face-to-face mentoring/feedback for every 20 hours of work.
The requirement could be reduced or eliminated for attorneys showing actual financial hardship. Though, 945 hours (900 work + 45 feedback) at $7.50 an hour is only $7,087.50 a year. Adding in payroll taxes and some overhead, attorneys ought to be able to take on a pupil for about $10,000-12,000 a year. (Two experienced attorneys would be able to split a full time pupil in order to lower overhead expenses.) And that's the cost, not the net loss. Hopefully these pupils would be able to generate a small profit for the attorneys they work for. With expenses this low, the financial hardship level could be set around $75,000-85,000, perhaps more for cities like New York and DC.
And of course, there would be an exception when there is a lack of qualified applicants. To handle this, state bars would create a registry, where people seeking pupillage sign up and indicate their geographical range and a bit of other data.
Alternatively, we can just raise licensing fees for older attorneys and require them to fund pupillages for the lawyers who want to take someone on. Providing small funding for jobs wouldn't necessarily create more, but if to few firms grab the subsidy, then the subsidy pool grows and the amounts being offered rise until it reaches a equilibrium.
This might sound like some Generation Whine "I'm entitled to a job!" nonsense, but it's not. It's "As a member of the practicing bar, you're obligated to ensure the future integrity of the profession, so nut up grandpa and quit whining about downgrading your CL-550 to an S-350. You'll live."