The Volokh Conspiracy

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Volokh Conspiracy

Do law school clinics lead to more jobs for law school graduates?


Jason Yackee has posted an interesting empirical paper, Does Experiential Learning Improve JD Employment Outcomes?, on whether the availability of clinical education enhances short-term employment prospects for law students. Here's the abstract:

This short paper provides an empirical examination of the link between law school experiential (or "skills") learning opportunities and JD employment outcomes. The current "law school crisis" poses a number of serious challenges to the legal academy, and how law schools should respond is hotly debated. One common suggestion is that law schools should reform their curriculum to emphasize the development of practical skills through experiential learning, rather than emphasize what is described as the impractical, theory- and doctrine-heavy book learning of the traditional law school curriculum. Employers are said to be more likely to hire those with substantial skills training. This paper provides a simple empirical examination of that basic hypothesis. To summarize the paper's key finding: there is no statistical relationship between law school opportunities for skills training and JD employment outcomes. In contrast, employment outcomes do seem to be strongly related to law school prestige.

As Yackee makes clear, the paper does not try to assess the value of clinical education. Instead, it tries to assess whether employers of newly-minted JDs see such education as valuable based on their hiring patterns. As I understand things, the basic methodology is to look school by school at two variables: (a) the percentage of slots available at that school in faculty supervised law clinic courses as compared to overall JD enrollment, based on the ABA Standard 509 Information Report of that school; and (b) that law school's Law School Transparency "Employment Score," which "measures the percent of recent graduates obtaining full time employment, within nine months of graduation, for which a JD degree and bar passage are required." The basic question is, do schools that have a high proportion of clinical spots do better employment-wise than those that don't?

From the paper:

In this section I present a statistical analysis examining the correlation between employment outcomes and clinical opportunities. Graph 3 provides an initial examination, a simple scatterplot of employment outcomes versus clinical positions available as a percent of enrolled JD students. If clinical opportunities positively impacted employment outcomes, we would expect the data points to slope upward and to the right. In fact, the trend-line is slightly upward sloping, but it is not statistically significant (p=0.687). Moreover, if we remove Yale as an outlier, the trend-line is perfectly flat. In either case, the graph provides no evidence of a meaningful relationship between clinical opportunities and employment outcomes.

I'll be interested to see how other empirical legal studies scholars respond to the paper, and whether they think its conclusions hold up.

Hat tip: Paul Caron.