An Ugly Stepchild in Law Schools?

Yes, in many law schools there are whispers (or loud proclamations) by law school faculty and administrators that when students don’t opt to use their J.D. to practice traditional law – and sit for the bar exam – it’s because they can’t/couldn’t cut-it in law school.

Popular conceit holds that law school is for a single purpose: professional training for the barred practice of law. Law schools (and their requirements and curriculums) have a bias against students who choose distinctive career paths and decide not to sit for a bar exam. Students who find a different purpose for their J.D. are often viewed as less intelligent law students (untrue). J.D.s who do not sit for the bar are viewed as failures (they are definitely not!).

Is advice to not take the bar given to students as an equal alternative career choice or the path to salvage something from their J.D.? This myth of “lesser” careers is perpetuated by the divisive distinction between “J.D. required” and “J.D. preferred” jobs that occurs for law school ranking and accreditation purposes. It’s a vicious circle of negative reinforcement that curtails innovation and growth in law schools.

It’s time to recognize not just the equality of J.D. students who choose not to follow a traditional barred career path, but their importance to the success of law schools in the future. As we look to the impact of technology and innovation in the legal industry – whether alternative dispute resolution or legal AI – they have the right idea. The legal industry is growing – the traditional role of the attorney is shrinking. Law schools that wish to remain relevant must address this change in both their curriculum and most importantly their treatment of the non-traditional career paths taken by some of their J.D. students.

If we can’t allow room within our curriculums for non-traditional career paths with a J.D. – perhaps we need an ALT JD?

~JmE