Law Schools and the Bar

The ongoing discussion over the expense of legal education and the high levels of debt that many students have is, I think, missing part of the problem.  While the interests of practicing lawyers and law schools are aligned in many respects, in this case they are not.

Here’s what I mean.  Expensive law schools mean that there will be fewer lawyers (all other things being equal).  Is this something that existing lawyers should worry about?  It’s probably something that they should celebrate–they will have less competition.  Law schools and law students, on the other hand, are hurt by reduced enrollment and fewer opportunities.

Resolving this conflict is hard because the ABA controls the standards that law schools must meet.  No accredited school can just change it’s J.D. program to two years or adopt many of the innovations that are being suggested in legal education without the approval of the ABA and the various state bars.  Why should we expect that this approval will be given?



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4 Responses

  1. Aaron says:

    “Expensive law schools mean that there will be fewer lawyers…”

    I disagree. A law degree appears to be an inelastic good. Tuition has substantially increased from 1985-2011, as has the average amount borrowed. See the ABA charts below.

    Reducing admission means that there will be fewer lawyers. However, a recent WSJ article reveals that only 5% of law schools are experimenting with reducing admission.

    Education is a business, and business is good.

  2. Gerard Magliocca says:

    I don’t agree that a law degree is generally inelastic (though I’m sure it is a place like Harvard). Deans at third-tier schools are not finding that to be true.

  3. A.J. Sutter says:

    You’re right. All practitioners act only in their own self-interest, and don’t give a rat’s tokhes about the future of the profession. Nearly 30 years since my J.D., I am absolutely TERRIFIED of a new crop of 1st-year lawyers hanging out their shingles.

  4. Doug Richmond says:

    The statement that “[e]xpensive law schools mean that there will be fewer lawyers” is simply wrong. Dramatic increases in law school tuitions in recent years have not slowed the production of new lawyers. How are law students hurt by reduced enrollment unless schools compensate for fewer fannies in seats by ratcheting up tuition to replace the asociated lost revenue? Fewer students should mean easier access to clinical programs and lower faculty-student ratios, which, in theory, should improve learning.