By Edgardo J. Angara
In 2015, the University of Maryland Carey School of Law and the University of Baltimore School of Law partnered to launch the “Legal Entrepreneurs for Access Program” (LEAP). This is a start-up incubator scheme aimed at recent law school graduates who want to start their own firms.
Participants receive a year’s worth of advanced legal and entrepreneurial training through mentorship with established lawyers. They’re also provided office space, Internet connectivity, free malpractice insurance and bar association membership. In exchange, the participants are required to devote some of their billable hours to providing pro bono or low-cost legal services for indigent clients in the Baltimore area.
LEAP was among the programs cited in a recent Financial Times article on how law schools in the United States are modernizing their curriculums to remain attractive and competitive.
Other laws in the US in fact have long been offering courses beyond the basic or traditional Juris Doctor (JD) curriculum. For instance, the Leonard N. Stern School of Business of New York University (NYU) has been running a joint JD-MBA program since the 1970s, while the joint degree program in law and business of Harvard is the Ivy League school’s oldest double-degree offering.
Amid dropping law student admissions rates since 2010 and intense competition among law school graduates for entry-level jobs, US law schools are innovating towards better preparing their students for the world of work—and doing so, in shorter time.
For example, the joint JD-MBA program between the Northwestern School of Law and the Kellogg School of Management confers two degrees in three years, instead of five if pursued separately.
The Master of Legal Studies (MLS) program of Cleveland-Marshall College of Law is another example. The MLS program enables JD students to add a few courses to their law curriculum so that they will receive upon graduation their diploma and a certification in a chosen field of application, such as healthcare regulation, law enforcement, or global compliance and contracts as well.
Another Financial Times article, by columnist Andrew Hill, argues that even deeper changes to the law profession are necessary. Mr. Hill suggests that while “problem-solving, creativity, intellectual curiosity, energy, and passion” are among the qualities sought by prestigious law firms, an unspoken truth is “insecure overachievement” is another. One head of a prestigious consultancy firm interviewed for the column said, “The best client relationship builders in our firm are insecure. They are so hell-bent on making their clients feel good about them that they work overtime.”
Howard Hymanson from the UK reacted to the column, commenting that for many firms, “burnout” of staff is an unwritten part of the business model. Mr. Hymanson wrote, “It is an open secret that stress-induced depression, anxiety disorders, and chronic fatigue syndrome are commonplace. In the hothouse environment of an elite law firm, the insecure overachievers…generally fail to recognize that they are falling ill in the first place and those who do may not feel able to make the potentially career-limiting step of telling their employer. Many lawyers, therefore, suffer in silence, precipitating otherwise avoidable breakdowns. ”
A measure of prestige is earned by people who work long hours, as many cultures value “hard-working,” “busyness,” and “productivity” as moral virtues deserving of pursuit. But working too much in stressful environments have already been established as a bane — not a boon — to long-term health and productivity.
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