Tuesday, January 17, 2012
Allowing undergraduate law majors to take the bar exam would increase the number of attorneys and lower legal fees.
Over three years, tuition at a law school can exceed $150,000. Even this princely sum does not capture the full cost. During the time spent at these schools, most students could have earned substantial income. A recent analysis by Herwig Schlunk of Vanderbilt University suggests that for bright students with attractive career opportunities, the total cost of law school is closer to $275,000.
The high cost of graduate legal education limits the supply of lawyers and leads to higher legal fees. And higher fees place legal services out of the reach of middle-income families at a time when increasing complexity demands more access to these services. In short, the current system leaves citizens underserved and young lawyers indebted. ...
Here is a straightforward solution: States should permit undergraduate colleges to offer majors in law that will entitle graduates to take the bar exam. If they want to add a practical requirement, states could also ask graduates to serve one-year apprenticeships before becoming eligible for admission to the bar. ... This option would reduce the law school tuition to zero. And the three years of students going without income would be replaced by a year of paid apprenticeship and two years earning a living as a lawyer.
The idea of learning law as an undergraduate discipline is hardly untested. Great Britain, for instance, educates lawyers in college, not graduate school. These college-educated lawyers appear to provide legal services on par with those of their American colleagues.
In addition to reducing the cost of training a lawyer, an undergraduate law degree could facilitate innovation in legal teaching. Because an undergraduate major would be situated within a college of arts and sciences, it would be easier to provide an interdisciplinary education, mixing elements of social science and humanities with legal doctrine. ...
Of course, encouraging colleges to offer undergraduate legal education would not prohibit law schools from continuing to offer the current, three-year J.D. program. The maturity and career change that this graduate option would provide would continue to benefit some students.
But the great benefit of the undergraduate option would be lowering the cost of legal education, thus increasing the supply of lawyers willing to charge lower fees. Lower fees mean broader access for middle- and lower-income Americans. Ultimately, law exists to serve the public. Legal education needs to provide more diverse options to assure a more diverse bar and a better-served public.
- Wall Street Journal Law Blog, Someday Your Kids Might Say, ‘I Majored in Law’