January 27, 2012
Olivas: Ask Not For Whom The Law School Bell Tolls
It is a fact universally acknowledged that law faculty are in want of purpose. It takes a lot to get us riled, and even more to call us to the barricades. But the current state of financing legal education is just such a burning theater, and we all should be troubled by the fast-churning events. Because most of us went to law school during the Golden Age, which I situate as having ended about five years ago at the top of the application apex and the height of the modern-day job markets for law graduates, most of us are blissfully unaware of recent developments that literally threaten the enterprise. I write to discuss these many moving parts and to call us to action as a community, for threats to the universe of legal education will affect us all to our collective detriment....
[A]ll of us similarly have a dog in this fight of cost containment and in making legal education accessible and affordable to our students. We cannot simply hope that the problems will resolve themselves. We have erected a substantial system of training lawyers, one that is a spectacular success by any measure, notwithstanding the cracks in the infrastructure. We all need to keep up with these developments, counter challenges to our existence, and work harder to explain why our system is worth saving at its core. We also need to do a better job of explaining the large role of lawyers in the world society, not only as technicians with attention to detail but as defenders of important core values and democratic principles. I do not view the migrating role of lawyers to civilian life across non-law fields as evidence of our declining competence, as some commentators have in analyzing legal employment figures, but rather this as robust evidence of the growing value of being a lawyer and applying our skills to the many societal problems in need of our multifaceted talents. It is no accident that a disproportionate number of lawyers serve in business enterprises, as well as in positions of governmental leadership and civic participation, giving generously of our time and talent.
Perhaps most importantly, we need to be cheerleaders for legal education writ large and our way of life, and to be critics that hold it to high standards. In many countries, law faculty are entirely part-time, and widespread student access is limited by a filter of counterproductive and inefficient attrition. This is not the path we have chosen, and it is our glory. At the least, we should not weaken our chosen profession by inattention, avarice, or acrimony. Speaking out against lawyers is an ugly habit, yet I have witnessed law teachers do it in public venues. Others will attempt to diminish both the rule of law and its means of transmission, so we need not add to this chorus. We should not belittle law’s accomplishments, just as we should not overlook its weaknesses or inefficiencies or inequities. The bell will toll for all of us, even if we do not always hear its loud peals.
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I was intrigued by this summary until I read "I do not view the migrating role of lawyers to civilian life across non-law fields as evidence of our declining competence, as some commentators have in analyzing legal employment figures, but rather this as robust evidence of the growing value of being a lawyer and applying our skills to the many societal problems in need of our multifaceted talents." This sentence indicates that Mr. Olivas is just as out of touch as the rest of his colleagues. Recent law school graduates that have 'migrated to nonlaw' fields are NOT applying their 'multifaceted talents to many societal problems.' They are serving up lattes at Starbucks, ringing up goods at Target and greeting customers at retail stores. Mr. Olivas is right that the ivory tower needs to wake up, but embracing nonlegal employment is not likely to be a large part of the solution. The lawyers serving in business enterprises and as civic leaders did not graduate in recent years. Most obtained substantive legal experience before jumping ship. Any recent graduate that is not employed in law is doing something that they could have done without a law degree (if not the college degree), except that they still have to make law school loan payments.
Posted by: Anon | Jan 27, 2012 10:02:06 AM
Funny post from a U Houston law professor. A school that recently nearly doubled their tuition while shrinking their class size. Access!
Posted by: anon | Jan 27, 2012 2:26:57 PM
> in analyzing legal employment figures, but rather this as robust evidence of the growing value of being a lawyer and applying our skills to the many societal problems in need of our multifaceted talents.
How many of you have ever said ever thought that adding lawyers to a social problem made it better?
Posted by: Andy Freeman | Jan 27, 2012 6:10:32 PM
"A spectacular success by any measure"? How about the fact that the average American cannot afford a lawyer? Or the fact that the average new lawyer is $60,000 in hock on a $60,000 salary? Or the fact that American law schools graduate 45,000 lawyers a year into an economy with jobs for only 30,000 of them? Or the fact that public opinion surveys routinely rate lawyers near the bottom in ethics and honesty?
Chief Justice Burger once said, "There are honest lawyers, just as there are four leaf clovers." Olivas, if you think "Speaking out against lawyers is an ugly habit", you can tell it to the judge.
Posted by: Jack Olson | Jan 27, 2012 6:19:21 PM
Three words: Buggy whip factories.
Advice and recommendations: Get used to driving horseless carriages. They'll be around for awhile.
Posted by: Warren Bonesteel | Jan 27, 2012 7:42:38 PM
"... cheerleaders for legal education"? I thought legal educators were suppose to be cheerleaders for the moderately far left.
Posted by: Ellen | Jan 27, 2012 9:05:21 PM
"defenders of important core values and democratic principles."
Core values like the demonization of the free market and democratic principles like mob rule.
"we need to be cheerleaders for legal education writ large and our way of life, and to be critics that hold it to high standards."
Cheerleaders for holding society ransom to a perverse elite, and a way of life that espouses radical egalitarianism, the erosion of individual rights like 'property', and the incremental destruction of the U.S. Constitution and Declaration of Independence.
No. I disagree with Ms. Olivas. I'd say that the legal profession is doing a fine job of those things.
Posted by: Uriel | Jan 27, 2012 9:39:52 PM
You're being unfair.
You said, "... public opinion surveys routinely rate lawyers near the bottom in ethics and honesty"
That's only because the public don't know much 'bout lawyers & lawyerin'.
If they really knew the half of it, lawyers would be dead last every time (or, possibly, merely dead).
Posted by: Barry | Jan 29, 2012 1:43:01 PM