Paul L. Caron

Friday, September 29, 2017

Simkovic: The Law School Monopoly Myth

Michael Simkovic (USC), The Law School Monopoly Myth:

It is often assumed that the only way to become a lawyer is to attend an ABA-approved law school.  That is true in some states and, indeed, the ABA has at times expressed the view that it should be true in all states.  But it is not the case in large jurisdictions such as New York or California, nor is it the case in the majority of jurisdictions.  Claims that ABA-approved law school have a monopoly on entry into the legal profession are exaggerations.  Rather, the most popular — and probably most likely — way to become a lawyer is to graduate from an ABA-approved institution.  ...

In fact, non-ABA law school graduates are eligible to sit for the bar examination in most jurisdictions (31 in total as of 2017) according to the National Conference of Bar Examiners.  This includes extremely large and important jurisdictions such as California, Florida, New York, Texas and Washington D.C.  Graduates of online and correspondence law schools are eligible to sit for the bar examination in 4 jurisdictions.

Very few people choose the apprenticeship route, and only a minority opt for non-ABA law schools.  Among those who do, relatively few successfully complete their courses of study or pass the bar examination.  But those who do will have the same license to practice law as someone who graduates from an ABA-approved law school and successfully passes the bar examination.

Why then do so many prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools?

The most likely explanation is that prospective lawyers choose ABA-approved law schools because those law schools provide a valuable and worthwhile service that supports a higher price point than other options. ...

The labor market is telling us that law schools are doing many things well.  There may be opportunities to do things even better.

I encourage those advocating bold changes to legal education to carefully study law schools and jurisdictions that have already implemented approaches that are similar to their proposals. ... 

Proposals that at first seem innovative [e.g., paraprofessional programs, online education] may resemble things that have been tried before. ... Reform proposals should not be adopted based on rhetoric and appeals to theory, but rather based on pilot programs that can be evaluated dispassionately and impartially with well-established statistical methods of causal inference. These should be followed by replication studies and validation studies to avoid mistakes or over-generalizations based on specific experimental conditions. The empirical labor economics literature is replete with studies of seemingly promising interventions and programs that ultimately proved ineffective.

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