TaxProf Blog

Editor: Paul L. Caron, Dean
Pepperdine University School of Law

Friday, October 26, 2012

Madison: Legal Education and the End of the Beginning

SteelMichael Madison (Pittsburgh), Legal Education and the End of the Beginning:

Hastings Dean Frank Wu ... has compared legal education to 1970s Detroit.  I’ve written of a different and to my mind, more apt comparison:  Legal education is the 20th century steel industry – massively successful up until the very end, and then, in a moment, it wasn’t. Not successful, and not much of an industry. American steel producers (including producers in Pittsburgh) have rebounded, and they still make lots of great steel – but the big integrated producers don’t make the huge quantities of the structural steel that made them rich and powerful, and in all that they produce today, they employ only a tiny fraction of the US workforce that they once did. In Pittsburgh, where I live and which has become something of a poster-child for the chic revival of post-industrial America, the scars of the dislocation, disruption, and loss wrought by the crash of steel are still visible, and full of meaning and economic impact, 30 years on.   

The collapse of American steel may or may not have been avoidable, at least at the very end. But everyone at the top of the pyramid, on both management and labor sides, saw the end coming: the over-capacity, the flawed economic model, the changing demand.  They saw it decades ahead of time.  Everyone diagnosed the problems as the responsibility of other players. In macro and micro ways there were plenty of opportunities for management and labor collectively to take a balanced view of their futures and to avoid walking over the precipice together. Yet walk over the precipice together is what, in the end, happened. The parallel to legal education is imprecise. At the very least, this is not law schools’ 1981, the year that Steel's struggles really started to hit home in earnest. 

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In ages past future lawyers worked for a law firm, "reading the law". After a while they took the Bar exam, and became lawyers. Law school was a means to shortcut that method. Some states still have such a mechanism on the books. Let's see, take employment with a law firm as a paralegal, read at nights, write up some briefs, which the lawyer takes credit for, and in a few years become a lawyer. Sounds simpler, and more financially sound than law school.

Posted by: Milwaukee | Oct 28, 2012 11:06:59 AM