December 6, 2011 Legal education reforms: a bundle of contradictions
As the recession has increased lawyer unemployment, the media has been full of critiques of, and proposals to “reform”, legal education. These reforms have focused on:
1. Making students more prepared for practice;
2. Raising bar pass rates; and
3. Reducing student debt.
It seems to me that these goals may contradict each other: that is, at least some proposals that help one goal harm others.
For example, making students more prepared for practice (goal 1) might lead to more investment in clinical courses. Because these clinical courses take time and resources away from courses that are tested on bar exams, they might frustrate goal 2. And because clinical education typically requires smaller courses (so that students engaging in clinical work can be more closely supervised) a renewed emphasis on clinics might frustrate goal 3.
Raising bar pass rates (goal 2) might involve requiring more courses just because they are on the bar exam, requiring courses on bar test-taking skills, and funneling resources into academic support for weaker students, and making schools smaller by refusing to admit high-risk students. Funneling resources into bar-prep classes and academic support might take money and class time away from clinical education (thus frustrating goal 1) and would cost money,thus possibly leading to tuition increases and frustrating goal 3.
And of course reducing student debt probably requires lower tuition, thus reducing resources available for bar preparation (frustrating goal 2) and clinical work (frustrating goal 1).
Of course, all of this assumes other things are equal. Certainly there are ways to make legal education so much less costly than we can do all of the above- relying much more on adjuncts and reducing the libraries and physical plant that contribute to law school costs. But whether these policies would be good ideas I leave to others.