Wednesday, December 18, 2013
Wall Street Journal Law Blog: ‘Cultural Cachet’: A New Argument in Favor of Law School, by Jacon Gershman:
For years students have been warned about the huge debt and terrible job prospects of law school. But while fewer in number, tens of thousands of them are still taking a chance on a legal education.
Why is that?
Some scholars, as Law Blog observed earlier, have answered the question by emphasizing the non-monetary value of law school as an extension of a liberal education, an experience that is costly but ultimately helps students lead a richer, more meaningful life.
Now we have another response from Lucy Jewel, an associate professor of law at the University of Tennessee, who isolates what she labels the “cultural capital” of a law degree in a new paper for the Journal of the Legal Profession [Tales of a Fourth Tier Nothing, a Response to Brian Tamanaha's Failing Law Schools].
Writing from “the perspective of a tenured professor teaching legal skills at a for-profit fourth-tier school,” Ms. Jewel lays out what she views as the “non-economic value that a law degree affords.”
there is more to the story of social mobility than just economics. Some law students, as the first in their family to obtain a J.D., may see the opportunity to practice law as an important cultural marker in their community. The cultural cache[t] of a law degree might mean something, even if the newly minted J.D. can only find full-time work in a non-legal job and must enter the profession via a part-time solo practice. ...
She concludes by drawing a parallel to law school-applicants and dreamers who move to New York City to be musicians, writers, or actors. There will always be people who make irrational economic choices, she says. “Law schools will not likely continue to draw 40,000-plus new law students into their classrooms each year, but my prediction is that the J.D. will continue to retain some cultural value that defies pure economic reason,” writes Ms. Jewel.