Phi Beta Cons

The New York Times Versus Law Schools, Round 2

About six months ago, the New York Times published a scathing attack on law schools for their dishonest tactics in luring in students with claims that plenty of high-paying jobs await them. Yesterday, the Times struck again with an article entitled “Law School

Economics: Ka-Ching!

The main takeaway from the piece is accurate — law schools are cash cows that coast along on the mystique that having a law degree is a great asset in modern America — but author David Segal misses a key point, namely that law schools have a captive market because of special-interest legislation that in almost every state requires would-be lawyers to first go through the long and costly three-year legal education mandated by the ABA.

Segal writes, “This is a story about the law school market, a singular creature of American capitalism . . .” That’s simply not true. Back in the days when there actually was a free market in legal preparation, only a minority of aspiring lawyers went to law school, and of those law schools, few mandated that students stick around for three years to get their degrees. The great change occurred in the early 1920s, when the ABA began to push for state laws preventing anyone who had not graduated from a law school meeting ABA standards from sitting for the bar exam. The current model of legal training is protected against those most essential features of capitalism: competition and discovery.

George Leef is the the director of editorial content at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal.


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