Kill Law School? This Guy Might be On (to) Something

By William Peacock, Esq. on April 23, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A recent law graduate writes an article called, "The case for killing law school."

What's your first thought? Probably dismissal -- crazy folks spouting nonsense. But his argument, which boils down to (paraphrasing here) "lawyers make it hard to become lawyers to protect their massive salaries," and which takes UC Irvine Dean Erwin Chemerinsky to task for his defense of legal education's status quo (while making $350,000 in salary, plus a cut of textbook and study supplement sales, and compensation for bar review lectures), actually contains an interesting truth: becoming a lawyer costs way too much.

A four year degree, plus a three year degree, plus a bar study course and exam, is quite the expensive order. Matt Bruenig argues that the solution is to trim the fat by cutting barriers to entry. Is he right?

This Guy is on Something

This is the same argument we've made time and time again, each time some President of the United States, or professor, suggests that we need to trim a year off of law school: we don't have enough jobs for lawyers as is, so why make it easier?

If you make it easier to become a lawyer, such as making it an undergraduate degree (like the rest of the world does), you'd lower the barrier to entry, law schools would churn out an incomprehensible number of graduates, and there would be hundreds of thousands of unemployed graduates instead of tens of thousands.

This Guy is on to Something

Maybe the problem with two-year proposals is that they don't go far enough -- it'd still be expensive to become a lawyer, and schools would simultaneously raise tuition while churning out additional graduates. But cut it down to an undergraduate degree, and the barrier to entry is a mere bar exam, and by extension, way less debt.

Bruenig argues that, "One way or another, we should do what it takes to flood the market with legal credentials and drag lawyers down into the pits or financial normality with the rest of the middle class."

It's intriguing, isn't it?

Less debt, and less of a barrier to entry, means that lawyers would expect less of an income upon graduation, instead of the current median, which is above six figures. And think about the impact on society: more lawyers with lower financial expectations means the legal services shortage for low-income individuals would likely be reduced, if not eliminated entirely.

I Want to Ride a Unicorn

Realistically, this won't ever come to pass. It would require the universal agreement of lawyers, bar associations, courts, law schools, universities, and countless other parties to come to fruition.

Besides, reduced quality is an issue.

Does it take three years of graduate school, plus undergrad, just to prepare simple (not high-stakes) wills? Probably not. Maybe, in an ideal world, there would be a "legal specialist" undergraduate degree (wait, that might already happen) that can handle low-level matters, with law schools serving as specialization centers, after a year or two of practice.

But do I want my dual degrees devalued? How about you? How about the rest of the bar? Do we want competition, even for low-level work, from faux-lawyers? The solution to our present system, rather than an ideal system, seems to be fewer lawyers and law schools, or drastically reduced tuition (which has skyrocketed over the last few decades), rather than "kill[ing] law school."

Am I being too protectionist? Must the cartel be broken? What about doctors, professors, MBA's? Sound off on Facebook.

Related Resources:

Copied to clipboard