In Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal he suggested that the starving Irish should save themselves from famine by eating their own babies.  The point is still valid and very real: in times of crisis, turning on each other is tempting, but unwise.  No better example of our Swiftian nature is watching job-seeking law grads sue their schools for falsely claiming they’d get good-paying legal work. This infighting risks losing our cultural identity as public servants, feeding the perception that lawyers are just in it for the money.  We know that isn’t true, but this perception is real and getting stronger.

We need to stand united as a community of legal service providers.  We are all responsible for ensuring a strong and independent Court, thriving law schools, successful lawyers and firms, as well as healthy public support for free access to the law through our law libraries.  How can we come up with creative solutions to provide the same services and opportunities when money is so tight at every turn?

Houston, we have a problem: the growing expense of law school, the resulting huge debt for new lawyers, and the need for employable, ready-to-practice law grads.  The diploma is no longer enough to guarantee lawyer success — they need to have polished their skills in advance of graduation. Result: we need a stronger commitment to practical training.  I suggest that public law libraries can play a supporting role in helping resolve all of these concerns.

Everyone knows that our public law libraries provide both nuts & bolts research training and hands-on client experience; we are already a “prepare-to-practice” hub for the local bar, pro ses, and the public. My idea: the big three law schools in town use the public law library as the first year student training ground.  Our law library staff already trains students and new lawyers in research and civil practice, and the SDLL’s collection means schools do not have to duplicate every book and database. Making law school library collections smaller means they have more available space for practical training and other uses. Law schools wouldn’t have to go looking for clinical experience: we have a built-in client population hungry and desperate for legal help.

I am not saying that the public law library can completely replace law school practical training programs and/or their law libraries, but we can help share the burden.  Law school libraries should concentrate on the advanced teaching of research and scholarship, allowing for savings on overhead and resources. The big bonus for the public law library would be our new active role in sharing the training of  future lawyers. Every new lawyer would be a public law library “grad” and we would get them into a real-world setting without law school placement offices having to engage law firms to hire interns and clerks (firms are becoming way too cost-conscious to spare valuable time on training newbies).  We need to expand our ability to serve the public (free clinics are our most popular offering).  By partnering with public law libraries, law schools could provide their students with basic knowledge, training and skills practice at a reduced cost.

I spent nearly two decades teaching and training 1Ls on research and procedural basics.  Year after year, virtually the same Westlaw and Lexis class, the same exploration of citators and indices, the same breathtaking “discovery” of the West system.  The routine was a chore.  Higher education should stick with providing just that — exercising their scholarly brainpower. The training ground for basic research, civil procedure, and civics should fall to us. The 50 hour pro bono requirement for new lawyers is coming down the pike — and there is an enormous appetite for legal services for pro se litigants and indigent defendants.  We have the work, law schools have the “workers.”

Law schools, are you listening? Any takers out there?  This can work.