Are Law Students Getting Screwed?

Don’t miss the long, controversial story on law school accreditation in today’s N.Y. Times — David Segal, The Price To Play Its Way, New York Times, December 18, 2011, at p. 1 (Business Section). Reduced to its essence, the point of that article is that as practiced today, the ABA process of law school accreditation is needlessly elitist, overly expensive, and it often puts legal education beyond the reach of many worthy young people who would make fine lawyers and as such contribute to society, but who instead are kept out of the profession altogether, or graduate from law school with student-loan debts running into six figures, which distorts their lifestyle options and career objectives, and forces them to spend years, if not decades, with a financial monkey on their backs.

Our favorite passage is the Times’ report of the ABA’s defense of its restrictive practices, namely that the ABA does not intend to raise the cost of law school or to limit competition. Rather, its purpose is “to ensure that lawyers are well trained and that the public gets quality legal services.” Oh yeah? Just you try taking that position inside a law school faculty and you’ll get the haughty response that “We are not a trade school!” But if not a glorified “trade school” striving to train future members of the legal profession, then what is the primary function of a law school?

Besides, isn’t it the purpose of the bar exam to insure that fledgling lawyers graduate from law school posessing the minimal qualifications required to practice law and protect their clients’ interest with competence? Which is interesting because as all law school insiders know, law faculties take pride in the fact that they do not prepare their charges to pass the bar exam — that job falls to the many private bar preparation courses that offer their services to law school graduates. As Dean Erwin Chemerinsky of the University of California Law School put it recently, they see the law as a vehicle for “change,” even though they never tell you how they really want to change the American legal system and through it American society. And here we thought that the primary purpose of law is to insure a modicum of stability, so people can go about their business without spending fortunes on lawyers and on endless litigation over what conduct is permissible and what isn’t.

In case any of our readers are interested in legal archaeology, your faithful servant went to law school in the olden days (the late 1950s) when it was possible and common that law students were on a pay-as-you-go basis, and graduated debt-free. Many held down jobs while going to night law school. Which in our case, sure broadened the professional options available to one, and didn’t hamper our career or level of professional accomplishment one iota. If anything, our real world experience opened legal employment opportunities not otherwise available to kids who graduate from law school without having ever held a real responsible job, and without having any knowledge of how things are done in the real world, to which the law needs to be applied, and who are not able to bring maturity of thought to their legal tasks.

There is much that can be said on this subject and we are sure that much will be said about that Times article. So you ought to read it for yourself and make up your own mind. Click here.

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