In the New York Times “Room for Debate” about whether law schools need curriculum reform, many of the authors fundamentally misunderstand what they are defending. Almost all the law professors have a similar response to simply adapt or tweak the system somewhat.
What they ignore is the massive financial burden that law school imposes and the subsequent incentives that creates. Most of the professors defend the three-year law school curriculum as a part of learning to “think like a lawyer.” And yet, with a bar passage rate nationally of 74%, it’s hard to say that most law students are getting their money’s worth.
And although I strongly defend the liberal arts tradition when it comes to the costs of college, law school is different. As much as I agree with Prof. Maillard about the importance of strong lawyer-citizens, law school is at its origin a trade school. Other countries mostly include the law curriculum as an undergraduate major, rather than as a postbaccalaureate degree. The rising costs of law school have to do with the financial incentives for finishing law school, rather than any connection to the value it provides.
Without any scrutiny (other than from the ABA, which clearly doesn’t mind some subpar law schools with dismal graduation rates), law schools freely engage in what can generously be described as academic malpractice. The traditional law school lecture system and final exam system have none of the hallmarks of anything resembling pedagogical theory. Rather, they resemble what one would find at, well, a trade school.
The article are all intelligent, but they all ignore the elephant in the room — the colossal cost of law school. As the NYT itself notes, law school tuition is skyrocketing and the schools gleefully reap the benefits.
Instead of promoting the humanist lawyer-citizens that law professors would like to educate, the law school system pushes its graduates towards high-paying jobs at law firms or as trial lawyers, instead of crusading for “equal justice under the law.”