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Friday, February 4, 2011

Barnhizer: Redesigning the American Law School

David Barnhizer (Cleveland State) has posted Redesigning the American Law School, 2011 Mich. St. L. Rev. ___, on SSRN. Here is the abstract:

American law schools are an integral part of a vertically integrated system of production in which the end product is lawyers. Law schools are having rapidly increasing problems “selling” their “products” to potential employers/purchasers. Even if the law schools do not voluntarily cut back on the numbers of admitted students some states will decide there should be no public subsidy for educating students for employment areas such as law where there is no demand. Even though many private law schools will be affected negatively, publicly-funded law schools will also be dramatically affected due to declining state budgets and competition for scarce resources from areas of public expenditure with far more powerful lobbying support and, in fairness, greater and more demonstrable and immediate needs. For publicly funded law schools there is significant danger in the fact that there is no shortage of lawyers in America after decades of rapid expansion.

Several potential shifts in ABA accreditation standards and policy will have significant implications, including approval of credit for distance learning, rapid movement toward assessment of law schools based on what are called “output” measurements, and even a decision that scholarly productivity measures are an inappropriate factor for the American Bar Association (contrasted with the AALS) to rely on in assessing the accredited status of a law school. These three accreditation prongs will have enormous effects that include significant faculty reductions, higher faculty workloads, changes in tenure standards, and large-scale eliminations of the traditional law school research library. For the (many) law schools that choose to remain oblivious to the altered operational context, their adaptations will be ones developed in a crisis context as their applicant pools shrink, angry graduates are increasingly unable to find employment even while faced with educational debt equivalent to a home mortgage, and less expensive competitive institutions emerge that offer alternative approaches to legal education.

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"American law schools are an integral part of a vertically integrated system of production in which the end product is lawyers." With a beginning like this, it's hard to see what good is going to come out of the author's analysis.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 4, 2011 6:09:23 AM

Nice article. My impression is that the article is one of the legal profession by as seen through a law school model, but then, its written by a professor.

But limiting supply doesn't seem like the point, even counter productive. If the problem is the product, making less of the product doesn't improve the it. If the problem is the profession, then you need to change education.

My proposition is that graduates of the law school system are not flexible enough to fit the labor market. The labor market for traditional attorney jobs has contracted, supply of graduates expanded, bad news for compensaton.

Isn't that kind of odd? Law school was, for me, a very intellectually demanding 3 years of my life. So why, in the aggregate, doesn't it improve earning power?

My guess is that knowledge of the law and hard work, alone, simply aren't enough. There aren't enough legal positionss out there, nor will there ever be. On the other hand, there will always be management, salesmen, administrators, educators, etc... So, my guess again, the future of law is to team up with other post-graduate schools, specifically MBA programs, and create a more fully-rounded and marketable education.

Posted by: psahley1411 | Feb 4, 2011 4:34:23 PM

Bet his proposal is not as radical as mine. Abolish the education requirements for admission, allow any honest citizen over the age of 21 to take the bar exam. Limit the exam to civil and criminal procedure and evidence.

Posted by: Walter Sobchak | Feb 4, 2011 5:26:46 PM

Anyone who goes to law school primarily to make money would be better off not going, at all.

Posted by: mike livingston | Feb 5, 2011 12:58:19 PM