67 leading law profs: time to reform legal education

by Walter Olson on March 12, 2013

A letter to the ABA signed by 67 big names in legal education [Caron/TaxProf] comes to conclusions about the economic organization of law schools very similar to those I reached two years ago in the relevant section of Schools for Misrule (not claiming any particular prescience on my part, others had made a similar case before and the signs were clear enough to anyone who would look). Their recommendations:

Legal education cannot continue on the current trajectory. As members of a profession committed to serving the public good, we must find ways to alter the economics of legal education. Possible changes include reducing the undergraduate education required for admission to three years; awarding the basic professional degree after two years, while leaving the third year as a elective or an internship; providing some training through apprenticeship; reducing expensive accreditation requirements to allow greater diversity among law schools; building on the burgeoning promises of internet-distance education; changing the economic relationship between law schools and universities; altering the influence of current ranking formulas; and modifying the federal student loan program. As legal educators, it is our responsibility to grapple with these issues before our institutions are reshaped in ways beyond our control.

{ 6 comments }

1 dm2000 03.13.13 at 7:17 am

The issue is a lot of attorneys and not nearly enough jobs. This does not resolve the concern. Shut down several of the law schools and limit the lot of students. This is what is done for medical schools. Making law school a 2 year experience will just intensify the trouble, not help it.

2 Daniel Sochor 03.14.13 at 1:02 am

Close law schools where the bar passage rate is less than 50%. Make the JD two years with a practical internship program. An optional third year could be designated as an LLM.

3 jurisdebtor 03.14.13 at 11:32 am

‘As legal educators, it is our responsibility to grapple with these issues before our institutions are reshaped in ways beyond our control.”

I am confused by this closing of the letter. Who is the “our”, and who is going to reshape legal institutions beyond “our” control? The ABA is impotent (at least that is what it is claiming), and the Task Force it created is crying no authority vis-a-vis accreditation, which in some ways leaves law school to monitor themselves. So who is going to step in? The feds? The FTC seems unconcerned about the questionable employment data being published, and the ABA (given the recent Duncan case) is almost impervious to anti-trust litigation, so what could the feds do?

4 Ron Miller 03.15.13 at 10:05 am

For many of us, we think people should be largely left alone to exercise free will. Unless it is an activity in which we will never engage so, by all means, let’s stick our noses directly into it.

Shouldn’t the free market economy sort all of this out? We have a buyer and seller of these services? Let them be. Are we really going to make up rules like close the law schools that how low pass rates? Why do we want the ABA to get involved? Every business needs less regulation except law schools which need a lot more?

Who exactly his harmed by bad law schools with bad passing rates? The (maybe) knuckleheads who attend these schools. But maybe they are also people with dreams of entering a certain profession even if against the odds.

Why don’t we make a rule that says that actors in Hollywood who have not reached a certain point after three years in the business can no longer continue to audition for roles? Because they are just wasting their time.

I think it is good to push for these reforms. Law schools really are a train wreck that need to be changed. But it should be done with the free market: those who set up the schools the way they should be set up should win.

5 Daniel Sochor 03.15.13 at 10:12 pm

Should a business be allowed to produce/sell cars where fewer than half are roadworthy? How about planes?

6 Ron Miller 03.19.13 at 9:28 am

Daniel, the fact that regulation is good in some areas – human safety is a great place to start – does not mean it is good everywhere. Business sell tons and tons of useless products every single day. 99% of the herbal supplements for example. People just waste their money foolishly. But that’s okay as long as the company is not causing them physical harm.

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