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Friday, July 12, 2013

American Lawyer: State Bar Legal Education Reform Proposals Fail to Address Law Students' Woes

American Lawyer:  State Bar Proposals Fail to Address Law Students' Woes, by Matt Leichter:

Over the last four years, bar authorities in at least five states (in California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio) have convened task forces charged with investigating the underemployment of newly minted lawyers, failings in legal education, and student loan debt. Distressingly, the reports and recommendations these task forces have produced have actually decreased in quality over time, culminating most recently with the State Bar of California's Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform, which published its Phase I Final Report on June 11, 2013.

Two topics in particular have occupied the attention of state bar authorities: the impact of student loan debt on lawyers, clients, and the profession, and whether additional skills training in law school would yield better employment outcomes for new lawyers. In addressing these two problems, the task forces usually misunderstand the consequences of lawyers' student debts, and they zealously believe that better training will create jobs that do not exist. ...

Dogging the state bar task forces is an unfounded anxiety that lawyers are cheating their clients. They "foist" costs onto them, whether in the form of student loans or training costs. True, much of law school pedagogy avoids training people for small-law work, but better preparation will not create jobs. Supply does not create demand.

Demand for legal services, however, is not something state bars wish to discuss. Doing so would require admitting that many small-law jobs pay less than entry-level work in many other industries, and that economic depression combined with income polarization has reduced Americans' ability to afford legal services at any price. Instead of trying to internalize external causes of lawyer underemployment, state bars need to recognize that poor people are in fact poor, and throwing debt-free or better-trained lawyers at them will not solve the problem of poverty.

(Hat Tip: Derek Muller.)

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