In Thomas Friedman’s recent piece on the hiring practices at Google, he reveals some lessons that could teach law schools about their admissions practices. It is not news that law school admissions numbers have fallen dramatically in recent years, as prospective students, concerned with mounting debt and diminishing employment opportunities after graduation, are shying away from law school for other pursuits. Even with lowered enrollment, most law schools rely heavily on a few standard metrics to assess whether prospective students are worthy of admission: each applicant’s college grade point average and his or her score on the national Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Not coincidentally, such metrics—when taken in the aggregate for each law school’s incoming class—are also used to rank law schools as part of the talismanic U.S. News & World Report ranking of the nation’s best law schools. Because law schools are graded on these metrics, they, too, must assess their students along the same lines.
Perhaps Google’s own hiring metrics offer a better approach.
From a previous interview done of Google exec Laszlo Block, Friedman identifies those metrics Google considers when hiring for some of the most coveted positions in the world. Such metrics include learning ability, together with the ability to “process on the fly” and pull together disparate information. They also look at leadership, the ability to work with others effectively, problem solving skills, and intellectual humility.
As Friedman concludes:
The world only cares about — and pays off on — what you can do with what you know (and it doesn’t care how you learned it). And in an age when innovation is increasingly a group endeavor, it also cares about a lot of soft skills — leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability and loving to learn and re-learn. This will be true no matter where you go to work.
Using similar metrics as Google for law school admissions might attract a student body that is more diverse in many ways. Such students might also be able to weather the employment challenges law school graduates face in today’s economic climate.
Today, many students currently enrolled in law school already have these attributes. Once in law school, students must learn to seek out opportunities to develop and hone them. And employers must look to students who both possess them and have exhibited them in a range of settings. As more employers follow Google’s lead, they will see the value of law students who are strong in the Google attributes, which will only improve law graduates’ job prospects.
But it all starts with law schools. Law schools can help improve their graduates’ job prospect by developing broader metrics that identify those student attributes that are also qualities innovative and successful employers seek in their employees.