Phi Beta Cons

Re: Law Schools Imitate Enron

That New York Times article was indeed revealing.

I wonder how long it will be before some aggressive member of the trial bar finds an underemployed law grad to serve as plaintiff in a suit against one of the schools that fudge their numbers. That looks like fraud; it’s no different than a homeowner hiding the fact that his basement leaks from a purchaser.

My disappointment in the article was that no one mentioned the principal reason that legal education costs so much — the requirement in nearly all states that you must earn a degree from an ABA-accredited law school before you can take the bar exam. The ABA insists on a three-year course of study, but just about everyone who has gone through law school will tell you that the second and third years are almost entirely useless. You take a lot of courses in subjects that you will never need to know anything about. There is some benefit to the first year, especially learning legal research and writing and key fields like contracts and torts — but there is no reason that you should have to learn even that in a law school.

All in all, forcing prospective legal practitioners through the portal of an accredited law school is nothing but a gigantic subsidy to the legal-education establishment, and it increases the cost of legal services. If state governments allowed people to take the bar exam without first earning an approved J.D., some of those going into the profession would probably be willing to take cases from poorer people who, as the ABA admits, are often unable to find counsel when they need it.

The mandated three-year law school was originally conceived as a barrier to entry that would keep down the number of lawyers, part of the legal profession’s cartel maintenance. What with the increasing wealth of society and the availability of government financial aid, it no longer serves that function. The U.S. is glutted with law grads, but the schools profit handsomely from continuing to churn them out. Articles like that one may, however, cut into demand for law degrees by instilling in prospective students a desperately needed caveat emptor mentality.

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


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