Wednesday, October 3, 2007
Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question: What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine?
To survive in global economy, American law schools need more freedom to make radical changes. Take as a cautionary example the WSJ's recent story on the legal job market: clearly for many, the J.D. is a low-return investment. In an ideal world, law schools would respond by convincing Bar Associations to permit more lawyer advertising. This change would justify certificate programs, in turn reducing the opportunity costs of the J.D. Given a world where specialization could be advertised, law schools might permit some students to graduate "early" – in 18 months or two years - and receive the ordinary juris doctor degree (the "OJD"). Others would stay for longer and earn certificates in business, discovery-management, or arbitration. The most committed students would stay the longest and earn advanced degrees in tax, or "legal scholarship."
But such reforms are impractical under our current licensing scheme, which creates a set of immutable rules that discourage innovation. The Bar's accreditation standards increase the cost of legal education and reduce competition between lawyers. They make it impossible to create a true laboratory of law schools, competing for student dollars by offering the best value. Thus, the "single best idea" for reforming legal education is the one that makes all others possible: to eliminate the Bar's accreditation role. This is not to say that we don't need any kind of accreditation – we do, but it should not be one run by our guild. Instead, we should seek an accreditor that would embrace an experimental approach to legal education.
For all the posts in the series, see here.