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