Paul L. Caron

Thursday, September 27, 2007

David Bernstein's Advice for Erwin Chemerinsky: Make Law School an Undergraduate Program

Continuing our series of responses from various legal luminaries to the question:  What is the single best idea for reforming legal education you would offer to Erwin Chemerinsky as he builds the law school at UC-Irvine? 

BernsteinDavid E. Berntein (Professor of Law, George Mason University School of Law; Editor, The Volokh Conspiracy blog):

Make the law school an undergraduate program. California is a huge legal market, and students can take the bar without going to an ABA-approved school. Law is an undergraduate subject in other common-law countries, and, absent ABA intervention, there is no reason why it should not be at least offered to undergraduates here. A four instead of seven year route to a law degree will save future lawyers huge amounts of money, and even more in opportunity costs. This will especially benefit potential lawyers from less privileged backgrounds, to whom huge debts and many years in school may seem too daunting.

For all the posts in the series, see here.

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I was hoping to find time to write up this idea, but David nailed perfectly, so I will just say "ditto." As I understand it, Russ Pearce is working on an article to this effect as well.

Posted by: John Steele | Sep 27, 2007 2:53:06 PM

This is a great idea. Since it appears that law schools, for whatever reason, focus on undergraduate grades more than difficulty, it would also remove harmful incentives to obtain college degrees in easy but impractical subjects for prospective lawyers, many of whom who ultimately do not go to law school or cease to practice law.

The increased supply of legal services would probably hurt existing lawyers, but would increase overall welfare.

Posted by: Anonymous | Sep 27, 2007 1:38:32 PM

Prof. Bernteins advice for Erwin Chemerinsky would take us back 80 years in the development of legal education. My father-in-law graduated law school and passed the bar in Michigan when he was just 20 years old. He had to await his 21st birthday to be sworn in when he came of age. His degree, an LL.B., correctly denoted that it was a first degree. As universities correctly, in my view, noted that many law students lacked the requisite maturity to practice law at such a young age, they added two, then three years of undergraduate education prior to beginning law school. It was more than a decade after requiring an undergraduate degree before entering law school that the old "LL.B" was traded for the professional doctorate, the "J.D." To Prof. Berntein I say: we have been there, done that and moved on. Short changing new lawyers during their foundation years will not lead to a better or more professional bar, nor has allowing aspiring lawyers to "study in a law office" produced a California-grown Abe Lincoln. It is a bad idea.

Posted by: Al Golbert | Sep 27, 2007 11:04:04 AM

So let's openly treat law school as a trade school. Or let's go back to studying the law in a law office. In fact, in California, to take the bar exam, one need not graduate from law school, one can study law in a law office.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | Sep 27, 2007 4:58:40 AM