Thursday, June 07, 2012

Blunt Talk from a Reader to the Law Professoriate

Brian Tamanaha

Numerous readers responded to my op-ed in the NYTimes last week on the broken economics of legal education, but none more on point than a hand-written letter I received that bears reprinting in full:

Dear Professor Tamanaha,

Why are you asking "How did we get into this mess?" at this late date? Where have you been and what steps have you taken to avoid our collision with the iceberg you describe in The New York Times of June 1st? To what end does "professorial" status point? You professors, you lawyers, you faculty members control the legal industry and its ancillaries. If something has gone tragically wrong in the law school business, how did we lay readers come to be on the hook with the professional malefactors? Smile when you say "we."

You seem, to all appearances, genuinely appalled at the mudslide engulfing us. But the heart of the matter is this: You all were prepared to risk a debacle from Day One. The law schools were perfectly happy to rake in more revenue. The professoriate was happy to receive its cut of the breath-taking increase in revenue. The student customers were happy at the prospect of collecting the noble credential even though they had to out-Scarlett Scarlett. Who cared if the same evil spirit that stalked the McMansion business filtered into admissions offices?

The measures you sketch in advising remedial action smack of RMS "Titanic" deck-chair rearrangement. Got excess capacity from now to 2050? Start choosing straws now to see which law degree factories are going to shut down for good. Tell your gatekeepers to start telling the mob that the jig is up. Make the end quick, cruel, painful and permanent. If it hurts badly it must be a splendid remedy.

Let me add my own very "street-urchin" take on a solution to accompany my harsh words. Let the pre-law take two years and the legal training take two years. There is no reason at today's prices to pay for seven years when four will do very nicely. Let "specialization" commence with the first job out of school. It's like recovering from alcoholism. Stop your whining and bleating and excusing. Admit you're not sober.



You all were ready to danger a ordeal from Day One. The law educational institutions were completely satisfied to generate more income. The professoriate was satisfied to obtain its cut of the breath-taking improve in income. The pupil clients were satisfied at the possibilities of gathering the royal certification even though they had to out-Scarlett Scarlett. Who cared if the same wicked soul that stalked the McMansion company strained into acceptance offices? Buy Cheap Windows 7 ultimate activation Key
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You seem deeply confused in your diagnosis and the solution.

If the problem is that the legal profession isn't growing fast enough to accommodate the number of new bar applications, there are three possible solutions: the profession could grow, the law schools could shrink, or graduating students could find other careers.

Shortening law school, remaking it into a trade school rather than a continuation of a liberal education, limiting student loans and shrinking or eliminating tenure are all irrelevant to this problem. None will make jobs for students. Indeed, several will make the problem worse. Making legal education even more specialized will make it harder, not easier, for students to find non-legal jobs and will make lawyers less useful, which will, over time, reduce the number of lawyer jobs too. Reducing the length or cost of legal education amplifies that problem while also likely increasing the number of law grads.

If the problem is that law school is too expensive and students are taking too many loans, then the obvious solution is to return to the old days when public law schools were state supported. Simply reducing the availability of federally supported loans will just leave students with no choice but to take more expensive private loans. That solution only makes sense if your goal is to reduce access and you think the appropriate way to do that is to make law school slots available only to the rich.

But perhaps your real complaint -- although you don't say it clearly -- is that there are too FEW lawyers and they have not yet competed their pay down LOW enough. In that case, converting some law schools to cheap trade schools producing a sort of super paralegal with the authority to act as a lawyer but not the judgment or education to do so well might actually be a solution.

However, assuming this is your goal, you have not explained why these new tradesmen -- useful as they might be -- should be called lawyers, an ancient term that means something else altogether. There is nothing wrong with selling American cheese-food, but it is consumer fraud to label it "cheddar".

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