Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Rutgers Dean: Legal Profession Should Adopt Medical Residency Model

New York Times op-ed:  To Practice Law, Apprentice First, by John J. Farmer, Jr. (Dean, Rutgers-Newark):

The ABA, which sets the standards for accrediting law schools, met recently in Dallas at a time of existential crisis for legal education. The job market for law school graduates is collapsing; some schools have been misleading, or even fraudulent, in reporting admissions and employment data; tuition and student debt have reached record levels. Some question legal education itself: What is its mission? What value does it add?

Those are legitimate questions. But to answer them for legal education, we also need to ask them of the profession.

Consider this: Nearly half of those who graduated from law school in 2011 did not quickly find full-time, long-term work as lawyers. Yet the need for legal representation has never been greater. ...

Legal education has not so much failed the profession as mirrored it. Law schools have trained students for a profession that has left a huge part of the public unable to afford representation — especially the middle class — and at a cost that perpetuates the problem. ...

There is a way out. Law schools and the legal profession could restore a vibrant job market by making representation easier to obtain. In doing so, they would revive their historic commitment to the balance between acquiring wealth and promoting civic virtue. ... We need, at its entry level, the equivalent of a medical residency. Law school graduates would practice for two years or so, under experienced supervision, at reduced hourly rates; repaying their debts could be suspended, as it is for medical residents.

Law firms would be able to hire more lawyers, at the lower rates, and give talented graduates of less prestigious institutions a chance to shine. The firms, at the end of the residencies, could then select whom to keep. Even for those who don’t make the cut, the residency will have provided valuable experience. The law firms should be required, under this proposal, to offer stipends to help those residents who don’t make the cut but have debt burdens.

(Hat Tip: Bob Kamman.)

Update:  Matt Leicher, How Long Until the NYT Confers a Permanent Editorial Space for Law School Deans?:

Residencies/apprenticeships isn’t a bad idea, except there wouldn’t be enough slots because there isn’t enough demand for legal services.

Real GDP & Legal Sector Value Added (Billions 2005 $)

To the next law school dean who writes in the NYT: There are more law students than there will be jobs available. There should be fewer law students and fewer law schools. Those who wish to work in Smalllaw shouldn’t have to spend three years getting a law degree to become a lawyer. Residencies are nice, but paying workers a pittance and then dumping them on the market doesn’t sound any more attractive than the current system.

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Two comments:

This is the most excruciating piece on law school reform that I have come across. This dean, who likely makes $500,000/year, just suggested that the rest of the world re-order itself so as to justify his institution's existence by providing his graduates with jobs. Never once does he suggest cutting law school cost as even a part of the solution to providing a) employment for graduates, and b) legal representation to underserved communities.

Yet, I really hope that law school deans continue to think along these lines. If schools were to take the necessary measures to cut costs right now, then they would likely avoid a total collapse of higher legal education. However, if they continue to engage in wishful thinking (i.e. that any organization will offer an apprenticeship program) when contemplating a solution to the crises they face, then the fallout will be significantly worse. I'd estimate that schools need to cut their payroll by 1/3 to 1/2 to be viable in the future. If they do not, then all but maybe 50 schools will go under.

Posted by: Anon | Feb 19, 2013 10:02:26 AM

I think you substantially overestimate the law dean's salary. Although I could not find the salary of Dean Farmer yet, his predecessor Stuart L Deutsch made
$287,278 in 2009, according to public records available on the internet. This a far cry from $500,000.

Posted by: Buster | Feb 19, 2013 3:45:45 PM

To the commenters above -- please stop quibbling over a dollar here or a dollar there in measuring a law school dean's salary, and, if you can, address the more important question. Can you identify a journeyman lawprof in America who believes his/her dean is underpaid, and has expressed that belief publicly?

Posted by: Jake | Feb 19, 2013 6:37:33 PM