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Amid a broader discussion about law school reform, Paul Horwitz opines that “what many law students are saying is not so much that they want training as that they want jobs. Simply creating 200 professional law schools with professional training won’t achieve that result if the demand for legal services is still lower than the supply of graduates; nor will mandatory articles of clerkship.” He continues:
we would answer this complaint better simply by eliminating a substantial number of law schools, regardless of the theory-vs.-practice debate. […] It is true that a more practical approach might better serve clients, but most of the discussion so far seems to have focused on what students and graduates want rather than what clients need. If our interest is in students rather than clients, then I should think that eliminating law schools, not reforming them, is closer to the remedy we ought to be seeking. Not that I’m advocating this! There appears to be a great demand for law school spots despite the economy. Moreover, law professors are regularly told by law students (including many advocates of a “practical” approach to legal education) on legal blogs and elsewhere that the student is a consumer and an adult and should be free to make whatever choices he desires, including whether to show up for class at all and whether to use or refrain from using laptops in whatever manner she desires. If we actually believe in this anti-paternalistic principle, then I’m not sure why the current setup needs to change.
It is not clear to me whether there is an obvious mismatch between the supply and demand for law school positions. It may be that during this recession there is more supply of graduates than there is demand from big law firms. But law school graduates go on to do a great many things other than join the bar and practice in a firm — they become politicians, businessmen, authors, administrators, public servants, scholars — even bloggers. Law school gives more than a credential to take the bar (and in an earlier post with Richard, we were not even sure it does that); it teaches logical thought and the working of institutions, skills that are valuable in a wide variety of settings. If we assume the markets work efficiently, every sign is that there is more demand for law school positions than supply. More law schools are opening and tuitions have been going up. People who go to law school could choose cheaper schools or other professions. If the jobs were not there after graduation, we should see tuition going down and schools closing. The interesting thing is what will happen with distance learning. In my mind, elite law schools have kept an artificial cap on the number of graduates. While the number of schools and student positions have increased overall, the number of students at the top 10 law schools — I bet — has been fixed for at least 25 years. This has occurred while the economy has grown and the need for lawyers has kept pace, if not grown even faster. The fiction was that law school instruction requires a small ratio of faculty to students, something like Socrates and his dialogue with his disciples. The dean of my law school is leading a charge at the University of California to expand the use of the internet to effectively increase the number of students who can be taught by an individual professor, and even look to a day when degrees will be given to those who take classes only over the internet. This might increase the number of graduates of the elite law schools. So it looks like Richard and I still have some future teaching students, at least for the time being.Published in