Sunday, April 14, 2013
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.