My law school had many externship programs, where students could gain real world experience. Other law schools are expanding that and trying to add programs similar to medical school residencies. It is a great idea. Being a lawyer is more than just knowing what the rule against perpetuities is (if you have to ask, you don't want to know what it is). It's about running a law practice, managing clients, drafting legal paperwork, and learning a business. What client wants to be their lawyer's first case?
The law school paradigm needs to shift towards a more practical base. Arizona State's plan is to open a law practice with a supervising attorney and have law students work under that attorney and charge half the rate other lawyers in the area would charge.
It's a great idea in theory. But is it just going to compete for clients now and undercut the market rate of all the law firms in the area? If I need a will drafted and can get it done for half the cost by a law student with an experienced attorney reviewing it, I'm going to be very tempted to do that. It will be easy for these law school firms to do just that because they will be subsidized by the university where a solo attorney must charge a certain rate to pay expenses and make a profit.
It is a great idea and I hope all law schools begin to rethink the model which they have been operating to include more practical experience. Let's just hope they do not force more lawyers out of business in the process. Check out the New York Times article.