Should law return to the total apprenticeship system? There would be no law school and no six-figure student debt. There would be no new JDs who realize they hate practicing law. Apprentices might have to pay a fee for entering the program, which was standard in many lines of work when there were no or few professional or trade schools. But that would be a more productive investment with perhaps a better ROI than the crap shoot of spending a bundle for three years of law school with no job afterwards.
That idea seems to have possibilities. Less promising seems the apprentice approach being created by law firms such as Howrey. Newly minted JDs sit in classrooms, which they have just done for three years of law school and four of undergraduate. They "shadow" lawyers serving clients. They get paid about $60K less than newly minted JDs not in such apprenticeship programs. Is this a public relations tactic to have clients know newbie associates won't be on the account and, just as importantly, they won't be paying for the perhaps inefficient work of newbies?
Law is a "practice." It's much like learning to drive, to write for print, to blog. You learn by doing, not by sitting in a classroom. I have never learned a thing about communications by "shadowing" a higher-up in an organization. They tried that when I was employed full-time at GM and I rebelled - successfully. When you're not involved in the actual doing and responsible for the quality of the product or service, you soon enough find yourself on auto-pilot.
The marketplace votes with its feet. If the talent doesn't enter these apprenticeship programs, they will die a natural death. The firm's brandname will take a hit because clients will wonder about this banana-republic type change, followed by more change.
Assessment: Law Firm Apprentice Programs are a very bad idea.