The substance of a legal education, especially at top-tier law schools is worse than bad, it's pretty awful. You'll apparently read lots of high theology about critical legal theory, feminist theory, Marxist theory, etc., etc. But it seems that if you want property, contracts or torts you'll have moonlight after you get your very expensive law degree. Law school sure isn't going to do it for you.
The latest Room for Debate feature in the Times is about law school, a topic that paper has taken a surprisingly strong interest in this year. I’m among the contributors; my argument is that the bar exam should be open to anyone, not just those who have graduated from an ABA-accredited law school. That would lead to far more competition by opening up non-law-school modes of legal education. Several of the other participants laud the splendid training that law school can provide, but law school itself is neither necessary nor sufficient for such training. The fact that law school can have good outcomes is no reason to enshrine it as the only permissible pathway into legal practice.
This Chronicle article covers a recent symposium on that most horrific of problems, an inadequate level of diversity. The focus of this particular symposium was insufficient diversity in the legal profession. A revealing quotation: "Our profession is among the least diverse in the country," said Conrad A. Johnson, a panelist and clinical professor at Columbia. "If we maintain the current status quo, we will find ourselves falling further and further behind if our goal is to obtain parity with the general population." Why should that be a goal of law schools or of the legal profession? If someone wants a good estate planning attorney, he doesn't care about the ancestry of the best estate planners he might choose, much less the diversity of the whole legal profession. The law profs who fret about "parity with the general population" have a central planning mentality that's common among academics, but is completely irrelevant to decision-makers in the real world.
In today’s Pope Center Clarion Call, I comment on the recent, wonderfully iconoclastic New York Times piece on law schools. Students are lured into law school in much the same way they’re lured into college — easy government money to pay for education that is supposed to lead to great careers. But just as there aren’t nearly as many high-skill, high-pay jobs for BA holders as we are led to believe, there are not nearly enough legal jobs for all the people who are getting JDs. To keep the good times rolling, some schools utilize deceptive tactics to make it seem as though graduates are very likely to find lucrative legal jobs. Many won’t. The root of this problem is state regulation mandating that prospective lawyers must go through an approved (i.e., long and costly) educational experience known as law school. There is no reason for that mandate. Legal education ought to be opened up to free-market competition and discovery.
Of interest to law professors, lawyers, and curious individuals, NAS has recently published three articles about law schools: “Conferring Privilege: DOJ, Law Schools, and the New Politics of Race” examines the Association of American Law Schools’ efforts to prevent racial colorblindness. “’They So Despise Her Politics’ - Do Conservative Faculty Candidates Get a Fair Shake?” presents documents in the lawsuit of an unsuccessful faculty candidate for a position at the University of Iowa College of Law who believes she was denied the appointment because of her politics. "Potemkin Admissions: Law Professors Propose to Hide LSAT Data" exposes a movement to persuade law schools to withhold LSAT scores from U.S. News and World Report. The idea is to make it harder for the public to see how much the pursuit of racial preferences drags down the quality of admissions. "They So Despise Her Politics" has received attention from the Daily Iowan, Instapundit, TaxProf Blog, and One Minute Lawyer.