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Monday, January 14, 2013

Diamond: Lawyers for America: A J.D. Version of Teach for America

TeachExpanding on an idea he raised in a comment to my prior post, Diamond: Law School Is Not a 'Scam':  Stephen Diamond (Santa Clara), Beyond the “Scam” Debate About Law Schools: Lawyers for America – A Modest Proposal:

The debate over whether or not law school is a “scam” would seem to be largely over. Court after court has dismissed cases against law schools for charges of misleading employment statistics. ...  But leaving aside the failed litigation strategy of the “scam” crowd and the unsurprising impact that falling application rates is having on resolving the “failing law school” crowd’s arguments, we are left with one very important problem: the thousands of successful law school graduates who passed the bar but have not been able to find jobs as lawyers or to find appropriate non-lawyer occupations and thus are facing a mountain of debt. I do not know the exact numbers but I think it is large enough to be considered an important problem for society as a whole not just lawyers and law schools. As a society, we should not be allowing these young people to waste the years of training we have invested in them.

I believe a proposal should be developed to solve the problem. It would work like Teach for America and I call it Lawyers for America. It would offer young unemployed or underemployed lawyers the chance to practice law serving an underserved community under the supervision of existing lawyers. One example: there are many thousands of small businesses in our poor and immigrant communities, including cleaning, housekeeping, gardening, construction and other services.  Many of these could be organized as LLCs thus shielding their owners from personal liability. This requires legal help.  These entities could use other legal advice as well. A legal service organization would be established in major urban areas that could provide these services.

The supervising lawyers could earn CLE or pro bono credit for their time. The law students would be provided a stipend for living expenses and more importantly would earn credits for debt relief. Every year of full time service would earn them 20% cancellation of their outstanding debt. ...

A program like this that ran for perhaps five to ten years would allow an entire generation of young lawyers to learn their craft, relieve their debt, and contribute significantly to the wider society. They would emerge at the end of the program with either a genuinely sustainable reduced debt load or in some cases no debt at all. They would have skills and experience and perhaps new relationships that would make them employable as lawyers in what we all hope is a much healthier economy.

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As always, the important thing is to make sure that any debt relief program for the new and screwed JD does not check the rise of law school tuition or employee salaries whatsoever. Thanks for your contribution, Steve.

Posted by: Morse Code for J | Jan 14, 2013 12:06:45 PM

It's actually a great idea. However, I don't see it being any sort of cure-all for the law school crises (which does exist, even if, as Diamond contends, a "law school scam" does not).

To start, as a professor, what on earth does Diamond know that would aid the training of these young lawyers to provide services to indigents. Most of what law profs are experts in relates to legal services intended for Fortune 500 companies (complex litigation stratey, 1933 & 34 Act, Patents, etc.). Otherwise, they know constitutional theory or something niche, like international law. So, Diamond's theory is founded on a particularly obnoxious concept that underlies much of legal education today, which is that, prior to doing important work that is within many people's grasp, we need to first pay the piper and undertake multiple years of studying something that totally irrelevant.

Second, if these individuals don't have some sort of practical training and demostrated competence before they begin work, they will do more harm than good.

Third, this does nothing to address the cost of law school. Diamond is still entertaining the fantasy that having just any legal job makes it all worthwhile. That isn't true. A graduate needs a legal job that justifies debt of between $150-200K.

Posted by: Anon | Jan 14, 2013 1:04:59 PM

Society subsidizes goods and services that it believes it needs more of. I think the idea that we need more lawyers to be trained and unleashed on the US, would be a hard sell.

Posted by: Daniel | Jan 14, 2013 1:41:58 PM

Would these folks be doing the sort of legal work that "the people" actually want or would they be doing the sort of "public interest" legal work that almost every law school does?

I ask because the latter is basically subsidized left-wing legal lawfare.

For example, would these folks help poor folk get CCWs from Bloomberg's NYPD? (Cabbies, small store owners, and lots of other folk face far more danger than big city mayors.)

Posted by: Andy Freeman | Jan 14, 2013 2:28:44 PM

Prof. Diamond: Who will be paying for the stipends? Just about every state in the country is having financial crises, as, obviously, the federal government. I can't see them feeling that legal aid for the poor is a high priority. Are lawyers supposed to donate to a fund? Are law schools? I don't think you will get much cooperation on that front, no matter how good the idea is. If only one-quarter of the graduates in the country fall into your category, a stipend of $12000 a year would add up to something like 30 million a year for 2500 unemployed graduates. I am using modest figures of an average of 50 per school X 200 schools.

Posted by: Ralph | Jan 14, 2013 3:05:12 PM

Lawyers for America already exists -- it's a new California nonprofit corporation (501-c-3 already secured) created at UC Hastings College of the Law but open to law schools nationally. Its mission is to improve the practical skills of new lawyers, to expand the availability of legal services for those who cannot afford lawyers, and to increase the ability of government and nonprofit legal offices to render such services. The mission is accomplished through two-year fellowships encompassing law students’ final year of law school and their first year as new attorneys. The agency partners receiving fellows will pay Lawyers for America, but the financial model is that a fellow for a two-year arc will cost approximately half the fully-allocated cost of a first-year attorney. Thus the partners get a bargain, and law students/new attorneys receive "medical model" legal training. Our pilot class of fellows has just been selected, and will begin as full-year externs in fall 2013 (at the offices of the Contra Costa County DA and PD). After a bar break, each fellow will work at the office for a year, paid a modest sum (as an employee of LFA). We are talking to other law schools interested in participating, and are hopeful that partnership opportunities will arise with nonprofits and government offices engaging in transactional work as well as litigation. Check our website ( for more information.

Posted by: Marsha Cohen | Jan 14, 2013 6:19:31 PM

Look, this model already exists--the Americorps Legal Fellowship program, currently administered by EJW: Living allowance and supplemental benefits vary by host site; currently $36,200 to $55,000 per year. Education award of $5,550 per year of service. Loan deferral available and Fellows can participate in other loan repayment programs.

Just, there's not enough money to provide this for tens of thousands of unemployed grads. They've been doubling their fellowship numbers the past few years, got some stimulus funds, but still are only offering about a hundred slots for grads per year, and 600-700 summer positions for law students.

And as a point of comparison, Teach for America currently has about 5,000 positions available each year and is incredibly competitive, which is better than Americorps Legal Fellowships on raw numbers but still doesn't get us there as a model for helping the masses: Per Wikipedia, in 2010, 46,366 candidates applied for Teach for America and 5,827 were initially admitted, making the acceptance rate 12.6%. The acceptance rate for 2011 corps members was less than 11%.

Posted by: anon | Jan 14, 2013 6:28:20 PM

Just to add to the existing idea: to reduce the burden of mentoring, etc., lawyers could also be sent out to already existing public interest agencies that are short-staffed and in dire need of attorneys (ie: legal aid centers, district attorney and public defender offices, etc.), but such help would be contingent upon such organizations maintaining existing hiring trends, so as to ensure that it doesn't hurt job prospects and jobs in those organizations.

Also, lawyers could be sent out in limited supplies to developing countries - a lawyers' peace corps. The diplomatic positives that would result from this would be well-worth the investment.

Posted by: M. M. | Jan 14, 2013 6:35:57 PM

This is LOL funny. There used to be this thing called an apprenticeship. In fact, in CA, you can still become a lawyer without wasting your time in law school. This "idea" sure seems to me to be better suited to part of the law school 3rd year which, outside of the elite schools that have many, many courses of interest and practicums, is a waste of time.

The third year could be dispensed with. Young lawyers could actually learn what a pleading is, for instance, or how to prepare a motion. This happens during summers. Considering how little most law professors know about the actual practice of law, I'm surprised that listening to them recite the same lecture on remedies is seen as so vital.

I would take a couple of young law students into my firm and pay them. Why should they pay a law school at all?

The first step on reforming the law, frankly, is just getting rid of the state bars. The bar exam is pointless and so are most requirements to become a lawyer. Somehow, with all these 'protections,' I'm dealing with dishonest and incompetent attorneys on a daily basis. Many of whom went to pretty good law schools.

Posted by: jdd | Jan 14, 2013 6:36:17 PM

Steve is still behind the 8-ball here, although he's getting better. You'd need supervisory capacity, facilities, etc etc. The amount of money necessary to do this in any level that would make a dent in the current employment surplus would be enourmous. Relying on the law schools to fund them as the professor above suggested is going to result in increased tuition costs or class size, the latter simply making the problem of jobless graduates worse.

Basically, what we need is a huge expansion of the legal aid program directly funded by taxpayers. The issue with legal services is the same as with health care- people need services but cannot pay for them at even rates a totally green graduate can charge.

M.M. In my experience, the existing public interest organizations are overstaffed and underfunded, and can only absorb novice interns up to a certain point. They need experienced attorneys, and do not have the training or supervisory capacity or frankly even the facilities, to absorb the sheer numbers of unemployed grads.

Posted by: BoredJD | Jan 15, 2013 9:23:53 AM

It's certainly been fun to watch Professor Diamond go from being a law school crisis denier to being a law school crisis truther over the past week, but his "new" idea ignores the obvious:

We have too many lawyers, and they are graduating with too much debt.

The answer isn't to get the government to create jobs to deal with the unemployment, or to create extended bankruptcy (IBR) to deal with the debt; instead, it is to reduce the oversupply and reduce the cost.

If we didn't overproduce law grads to the tune of 20,000 surplus we wouldn't be worried about losing a generation,and if the average law school debt wasn't in the $125,000 to $150,000 range, serving the underserved would actually be an option.

Posted by: john | Jan 16, 2013 2:01:30 AM