Phi Beta Cons

Law & the Courts

If the Smartest People are Opting Out of Law School, Should We Fret?

Law school is the leading indicator of the higher education bubble. While college generally has been oversold, law school has really, really been oversold and we now have way too many law schools “producing” way too many legal grads at way too high a cost. As people have gotten wind of the fact that the JD is a super-costly credential that is not apt to do much for the student, law school applications have fallen dramatically. What stands out is the fact that applications are notably lower among top undergrads.

Consider this Bloomberg piece by Natalie Kitroeff, wherein she writes, “As schools grapple with a persistent slump in young American’s interest in legal education, the programs seem to be compensating for their sudden unpopularity by taking in people who wouldn’t have made the cut five years ago.” Kitroeff also mentions the latest bar exam results, on which the pass rate is lower and quotes a law prof, Jerome Organ, who has examined the numbers and says, “Four years from now, when those people graduate and take the bar, you’ll have a much smaller percentage who are likely to pass the bar and a much larger percentage that are likely to fail.”

Perhaps so, but so what? If some of the really bright college grads who previously would have gone into the legal profession choose something else, that’s probably a good thing. It means more brainpower going into fields where individuals are more likely to do something productive. Not that good lawyering is never productive — a carefully structured business contract is certainly useful — but in the main, the legal profession absorbs wealth rather than adds to it. Moreover, quite a few lawyers actually inhibit production and help to contract the sphere of freedom with their legal shenanigans. I doubt that the marginal shift toward the sharpest young Americans going into law will have much impact on that, but it seems more likely to help than hurt.

Besides, much of what lawyers do isn’t rocket science. Good legal work doesn’t even require having gone to law school at all. It could be capably done by others, at much lower cost. There would be many legal practitioners like Rosemary Furman if it weren’t for bar association unauthorized practice committees that work to eliminate any and all competition for billable hours from people who aren’t in the legal guild.

Furthermore, a good argument can be made that the bar exam itself should either be dispensed with or made optional — a voluntary certification rather than a governmental requirement for permission to do any legal work at all. My friend Allen Mendenhall makes that argument in this piece.

Instead of worrying that some of the sharpest young Americans have decided against the legal profession, I think we should applaud this development as a market-driven correction of a misallocation of resources we have suffered from for decades.

George Leef is the director of research for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

Most Popular


Angela Rye Knows You’re Racist

The political philosopher Michael Oakeshott said that the “rationalist” is hopelessly lost in ideology, captivated by the world of self-contained coherence he has woven from strands of human experience. He concocts a narrative about narratives, a story about stories, and adheres to the “large outline which ... Read More

What the Viral Border-Patrol Video Leaves Out

In an attempt to justify Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s absurd comparison of American detention facilities to Holocaust-era concentration camps, many figures within the media have shared a viral video clip of a legal hearing in which a Department of Justice attorney debates a panel of judges as to what constitutes ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Pro-Abortion Nonsense from John Irving

The novelist has put up a lot of easy targets in his New York Times op-ed. I am going to take aim at six of his points, starting with his strongest one. First: Irving asserts that abortion was legal in our country from Puritan times until the 1840s, at least before “quickening.” That’s an overstatement. ... Read More
Film & TV

Murder Mystery: An Old Comedy Genre Gets Polished Up

I  like Adam Sandler, and yet you may share the sense of trepidation I get when I see that another of his movies is out. He made some very funny manboy comedies (Billy Madison, Happy Gilmore, The Waterboy) followed by some not-so-funny manboy comedies, and when he went dark, in Reign over Me and Funny People, ... Read More