TaxProf Blog

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

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Case for Killing Law School

The WeekThe Week:  The Case for Killing Law School (or at Least Making It Shorter), by Matt Bruenig:

Law professors Erwin Chemerinsky and Carrie Menkel-Meadow recently took to the pages of The New York Times to argue against proposed reductions of legal education requirements. They claim that making it easier to become a lawyer "is a terrible idea" that would result in lawyers being poorly trained, not to mention less well-rounded citizens.

Having just wrapped up three years of law school, I can say with some certainty that this is bunk. In reality, reducing barriers to entering the legal profession would probably have very little effect on quality, while also blowing up one of the biggest upper class rackets in our society.

In 2012, the median income for lawyers in this country was around $113,000, more than triple the national median income for all occupations. Why such high pay? In significant part, it's because we have made becoming a lawyer exceedingly difficult, which has the effect of driving up the prices lawyers can charge for their services.

The big scandal in all of this is not that law students are somehow getting a raw deal because of the debt they undertake in their arduous path through the credential gate. It's that the whole system wastes a ton of money that could be spent on more useful things than lining the pockets of lawyers and law professors.

By making it easier to become a lawyer, we could undermine this malicious dynamic. Make law schools two years instead of three. Or better yet: Get rid of law schools altogether and make law an undergraduate degree. Eliminate the bar exam or, if you'd like, make passage of it the only requirement to practice law and get rid of all the rest of the qualifications. One way or another, we should do what it takes to flood the market with legal credentials and drag lawyers down into the pits or financial normality with the rest of the middle class.

This sounds extreme, but it's actually what almost every other profession is like. And they seem to work just fine. Why must lawyers be special? Do they really need more training than professionals in countless other professions? Having just gone through this training myself, I am skeptical, to say the least.

Matt Leichter, ‘Liberal’ Law Grad Thinks Unemployed Law School Debtors Not Poor Enough to Matter:

Matt Bruenig adds himself to the list of liberals who believe that lawyers are cheaters who get a free lunch while in the real world law graduates are joining the unemployment line. The kicker is that Bruenig himself just graduated from Boston University School of Law.

Legal Education | Permalink


Aside from whether law schools are doing a good job with the 3 years' education they're offering now, it would seem that bad lawyers can create bigger problems than even bad plumbers, and for more people.

Posted by: Pereours | Apr 23, 2014 11:08:02 AM

"This sounds extreme, but it's actually what almost every other profession is like." Really? Which ones? Medicine? Ever hear of med school, internships, residencies, medical boards, not to mentioned medical specialties? Accounting? I’ve heard something about B-school and a CPA exam in five parts. Engineering? Does “C.P.E.” mean anything to you Matt? The priesthood maybe? The military doesn’t have an entry exam, but those service academies are pretty difficult to get into and out of, not to mention commissioning requirements. But putting all this aside, exactly what qualifies this undoubtedly very bright recent law grad–who has yet to practice law for a single a day in his life–to opine on what kind of professional training and education is required for successful law practice?

Posted by: Publius Novus | Apr 23, 2014 11:36:01 AM

As a current 3L, I have to say that my law school education has consisted of information I could have learned on my own time. So let's dispel with this farce that law students are paying for a legal education...they are paying for a degree.

With that said, I don't agree with Matt that we should completely remove the educational barriers to entry into the legal labor market. Rather, we should make legal education more practical by getting the current law school curriculum out of the way BEFORE entering law school (e.g., as a college degree program and/or by taking an LSAT that's more akin to the Bar exam) as a prerequisite to enter what I would coin as "legal trade schools," which would teach practical skills in specific areas of law. For instance, one would have to complete x amount of time studying estate planning at a legal trade school and pass an exit exam to earn an "estate planning license" to practice in that field.

Posted by: Anonymous | Apr 23, 2014 4:42:12 PM

My perception is that the level of competence in the legal profession is already quite low. Reducing the training given is unlikely to improve that.

Posted by: Jeffrey Killeen | Apr 24, 2014 11:05:33 AM