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What's old is new again

by Joe Kaczrowski | Apr 27, 2015

Suffolk University, among other institutions, is exploring ways to change the way lawyers are trained and educated. Legal education has not changed significantly in a century and a half. Suffolk's new program, the Accelerator-to-Practice Program, seeks to train lawyers in the practical aspects of running a law firm along with substantive law topics.

A recent article from the Washington Post discussed the challenges facing law schools to stay relevant and adapt to what may be the new normal. Over the last decade, the number of law school applications has been cut almost in half. For many potential applicants the cost of accumulating six-figure debt far outweighs the potential benefit. Recent data shows that nine months after graduation just over half of the class of 2013 had full-time jobs, and the average starting salary is down as well.

Law schools like Suffolk University are developing programs to respond to one longtime criticism of law schools, that legal education focuses on theory to the exclusion of skills and topics more relevant to the day-to-day practice of law. Several schools have developed incubator programs, but Suffolk goes a step further. With its new Accelerator-to-Practice Program, Suffolk offers students the opportunity to work in a fee-generating law firm during their course of study.

The Accelerator program also seeks to meet an underserved segment of the population. Students in the Accelerator program serve moderate income clients in a number of practice areas, including family, probate, consumer, housing, discriminatory work and other employment issues. 

Legal education has followed the same case method of study for well over a century. The apprenticeship model, upon which the Suffolk Accelerator is arguably a variation, dates back to the Middle Ages. However the basic principle has long been a part of firm life. New associates are given a mentor or senior associate from whom to learn. Programs like the Accelerator seek to compress the education process to enable law school graduates to more easily hit the ground running and begin recouping the sizable expense incurred.