Friday, July 20, 2012
Everyone engaged in legal education and not utterly asleep agrees that there is a "law school crisis." Building on recent works by Brian Tamanaha [Failing Law Schools] and Walter Olson [Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America], this paper discusses its causes and potential solutions, using a typical dichotomy in recent populist movements -- the "one percent" versus "99 percent" meme -- as a lens. It examines arguments that the problem is economic and that it is primarily cultural; although I conclude the problem is economic and structural far more than cultural, I also argue that one of Tamanaha's primary recommendations for reform -- that law schools ought to display more experimentation and institutional pluralism, and that ABA accreditation requirements ought to make this more possible -- goes some way toward addressing both diagnoses. The paper is more descriptive than prescriptive, although I offer some thoughts on solutions. I emphasize three things: 1) law schools would be better off focusing on regional than national markets, although the US News rankings make regionally oriented approaches more difficult; 2) a serious increase in meaningful faculty governance and involvement is needed; and 3) the role and needs of the client have been surprisingly marginal in recent discussions of law school reform. The client needs to be a prominent part of reform discussions, which suggests, contrary to some extant views, that curricular reform ought to continue to be part of the discussion along with economic and structural reform.
This is an early and imperfect draft intended for discussion and feedback, given both the importance of the issue and the need for increased public discussion. Comments are welcome.