Marquette Law School: Training Lawyers is Beneath Us

No matter how much one might have hoped that attending Marquette Law School might prepare one for a glorious career as a lawyer, prepare to have your hopes dashed.  After noting that there is an “issue” with the pedagogical sensibilities of a certain faculty member, things went from bad to worse.

In a subsequent comment on the offending post at the Marquette Faculty Blog, we learn that the expectations of lawyers (note, not law students, not lawprofs, but lawyers) that law school would prepare a student for the practice of law was, well, foolish:


However, I strongly agree with Chris King’s sense of the proper relationship between legal education and the practice of law. We don’t want law school to be lawyer-training school. When we cave in to demands of that sort from the ABA and assorted study commissions, we actually invite alienation among law students and lawyers. Legal education should appreciate the depth of the legal discourse and explore its rich complexities. It should operate on a graduate-school level and graduate people truly learned in the law.

I would like to challenge this directly, but such vagaries as “the depth of legal discourse” and “its rich complexities” mean so little as to be beyond reproach.  To a fault.  So while I have no clue exactly what it is that this professor believes should be taught, one thing is clear, it isn’t how to practice law.

Imagine, the dirtiness of a law school teaching law students how to practice law.  Disgusting.  Revolting.  How beneath the dignity of such a distinguished scholar.  Instead, they should be taught . . . what? 

The comment to which the quoted comment so strenuously agrees proposes that law school not be bothered training lawyers either.


I think its important to remember, like Professor Papke notes, that law school is an academic experience, if we want law school to be more of an apprenticeship then that is an entirely different discussion than perceived shortcomings of law school.

So where exactly do budding lawyers go to learn how to be full-fledged lawyers?  Certainly not Marquette Law School.  They don’t want any dirty, grubby lawyers coming out of there.  Apparently, they are much happier producing graduates incapable of practicing law, but very popular at cocktail parties discussing the depth of it and its complexities.

And yet they still crank out law students who are expected to take the bar and hold in their scholarly little hands real people’s lives. 

Of course, this could merely be the rambling of one faculty member, with the obsequious support of some of his more junior colleagues awaiting tenure and one law student who serves as his expert on public defenders due to a 6 month internship.  But then, where are the lawprofs who actually have a clue what they are doing teaching law school?  If I’m wrong, it would certainly be nice to have someone straighten me out.

PS:  For the Texas view, see Mark Bennett’s post :


In fact, I propose a new motto for Marquette: If you want to practice law, go somewhere else.

Catchy, no?

17 comments on “Marquette Law School: Training Lawyers is Beneath Us

  1. ken

    While at law school I had a brand new hire prof tell me that he was surprised that there were so many professors who had practiced at our school (he was one of them). He said law schools don’t like to hire lawyers who have practiced too much because they lose their ability to be theoretical/academic by their exposure to the realities of practice.

  2. SHG

    That has long been an issue with the academy.  No real lawyers need apply.  We’re not their kind.  But nobody mentions that in the law porn.

  3. Ken

    I went to a law school that prided itself in feeding into academia and the bench and so on. Some of the professors had pronounced disdain for the practice of law, as opposed to the theory of law. The best teacher I had there taught trial advocacy and ethics, and was a small-town practitioner. I have very little occasion to use what I learned about how various ways of thinking about law ought to make me feel.

  4. John Kindley

    I think the fact that unless you graduate from law school you can’t practice law makes all the difference in the world. Law school is not optional for budding lawyers, and therefore it’s not too much to ask that what is taught there directly prepares the conscripts for the actual practice of law. Those who want to philosophize about the law can do so on their own time and their own dime. (I count myself among those who like to philosophize about the law but not among those who want to pay top dollar to professors for the privilege.)

  5. Rex Gradeless

    There have been no practical skills courses regarding lawyers using new web 2.0 technologies and social media. But the legal theories learned, when applied to web 2.0 and social media, seem to provide a good framework for resolving and spotting issues.

  6. Shaula

    Scott, I’m curious:

    In contrast to Marquette, are you aware of any law schools which are in fact known for preparing graduates for the practical practice of law?

  7. folderol

    ummm… as a layperson suddenly fascinated with criminal court… and an artist who did not go to art school I am curious about this discussion.

    If a person goes to art school they are taught the academic techniques and history. They are also given myriad connections indispensible to their future.. commercial success.

    I who have not attended art school am simultaneous jealous of those missed connections and lessons in technique, and relieved to be relieved of the noose.

    Is it similar in law school— it is an academic training. If you are a praciticing lawyer, then I can see that if you did not get hands-on training as a lawyer in the realm you are called to, that it wouldn’t be a detriment— as in art, the real deal comes from learning on the job. The rest is about the paperwork & connections.

    I myself, lacking schooling and connections, if not respect and an interesting body of work, am what you might see as a lawyer without law school— no money, no job, no ‘hookup.’

    nothing wrong with gaining your knowledge in Real Life, with the back up to prove it.

  8. SHG

    While I understand your point, I tend to think that you’re mixing apples and oranges.  Artistic skill may be natural.  No one is naturally a lawyer, though some of the skills involved may come more naturally to some than others.  There are things that must be learned.  Then again, “law and post-Mayan pottery” is not one of them, which is the sort of thing that lawprofs find very scholarly and intriguing, but lawyers don’t find particularly useful.

  9. Charles H. Green

    Ughh. Another example of the pernicious trend of what used to be respected professions, crafts, trades–whatever–thinking they have to follow the academic model.

    The same as physics-envy on the part of the social scientists themselves. It has resulted in all arenas in the lack of a holistic perspective, and a complete inability to place value on providing value or getting along with others.

    I saw it starting at Harvard Business School in the late 70s, when the two highest-rated (by students) professors were denied tenure for failure to research. Research! Come on! People used to want a Harvard MBA because it focused on learning to be useful. Increasingly in that arena, it has focused just on financial and strategic theory. That has not only made Harvard look like other b-schools, but has contributed to the aforementioned narrowing of relevant business perspective.

    We reap what we sow. A tradition of law that insists “it isn’t illegal” is tantamount to legal ethics; a tradition of business that insists “break it into pieces, outsource it, measure it, and throw money-incentives at it” is tantamount to management.

    We see the results of that kind of thinking in the fractured, short-term mess that we got into in the mortgage business and in the far more pernicious derivatives area.

    We have a huge need for professionals who are trained at getting results within a system–without destroying the system in order to get their own selfish results. We’re sure not getting it by sniffingly asserting “we’re not here to train lawyers.” Well then who the hell is?

    Remind me to revoke my million-dollar contribution to Marquette Law School (ok kidding about that).

  10. DC

    This does not sound any different than another advanced profession: medicine. After 4 years, they do not see patients. They go through an multi-step apprenticeship process as a resident. No one would ever dream of going to a doctor who just finished medical school this year. They have no practical experience. They have just medical theory and facts crammed into their brains.

    In addition, think of a standard PhD candidate in any other discipline. I have never heard of one that does not require at least 4-5 years to complete the requirements, and some of the final ones are self study for a couple of years. It is pretty presumptuous for lawyers to claim they need no practical experience to practice their craft AND it takes them half the time of every other academic discipline in the world to achieve a doctorate level of education.

    However, no school prepares their students for the “real world” beyond a career center and a couple of counseling sessions. The best practice would be for firms to stop this senseless talent war and ever escalating first-year associate compensation schemes. Set an industry standard “entry pay” of half the current Big Law levels and hire more lawyers to develop and train. Then each firm can take their pick of who can stay after the first three years, and the rest have had enough practical experience to practice on their own or join another firm.

  11. SHG

    The med school-law school comparison has played out many times.  The distinction is that lawyers, like physicians, need to be prepared for the day they hold a real person’s life in their hands.  Granted, the doc’s involvement is more literal, but there are sufficient similarities to make the analogy valid.  Yet docs work their way up to real people, touch a little at a time, and eventually get to take the responsibility.

    Law students, in comparison, are thrown into the deep end without a clue what to do.  And it’s because of profs like this Papke, who believe that we need not concern ourselves with the mundane chore of representing clients when we can spend our days thinking deep thoughts, that the law schools have failed to provide law students with the tools to practice their profession.  And to provide clients with competent professionals who can handle their representation, another dirty little lawyer secret.

    Papke’s not merely wrong, but a danger to the competency of the legal profession.  Ask any defendant in prison who received ineffective assistance of counsel whether he cares how many deep thoughts his lawyer had during his case, as compared with how many good questions he asked during cross-examination.

  12. Maiven

    Disparaging a law school based on the opinion of one law professor makes a lot of sense, doesn’t it. Enough with the hyperbole! While I agree that a great number of law professors are too far removed from the practice of law, it is truly absurd for you to denigrate an entire law school based on your disagreement with the pomposity of one law professor. I thought that you were beyond such a scurrilous attack, but I guess that I was wrong.

  13. SHG

    And still no other lawprof from Marquette has come forward to disavow or disagree with Papke.  I don’t disparage Marquette.  They do by their silence.

  14. Simple Justice

    Starvation in the Academy: Lawprofs Make What?

    Like most working lawyers, I know little about what really goes on inside the oak-paneled walls of this nations many, many law schools.

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