By Noah Feldman
Who needs law school? For centuries, the answer in the English-speaking world was: no one. You prepared for the bar by serving as an apprentice or an intern alongside practicing lawyers. Sure, you had to read a lot of cases. At first, they probably made no sense. But over time, you learned by watching and doing to connect the decisions in the books with real cases and real clients.
Today there’s renewed talk of returning to a world where you could join the bar after extended internships rather than formal legal study. I’m a law professor, so you’d expect me to defend the current system.
Before I do, however, let me make a big admission: Law school isn’t really necessary for lawyers or their clients. Practicing lawyers could, if they had the time and inclination, train interns to become excellent practitioners who fulfilled their obligations to their clients more than adequately. In fact, at big law firms in big cities, and smaller firms everywhere, partners and senior associates still do spend a lot of time informally training junior associates. If they didn’t, the junior lawyers wouldn’t be very good.
Graduating from law school, even having learned everything the professors have to teach, doesn’t prepare you to practice at a high level. Lawyering is an art, not a science. And the only way to learn an art well is by doing it. Yet law school is absolutely essential — not for lawyers with clients, but for our society as a whole. The reason has everything to do with what makes law distinct as a social phenomenon.”