The Economics of Law School

Those who know me are familiar with a long-standing desire on my part to go back to school–as  a student–again. There is so much yet to learn and I’ve found that a structured environment forces me to focus on what I’m supposed to be learning rather than everything else I could be doing.

With that in mind, Joerg Knipprath has a good piece with reference to law school and its costs. The entire article is worth your time, but the following piece stood out for me:

Tuition is high, especially at the many private law schools. To a considerable extent that tuition is justified. But, speaking as a longish-time professor, tuition is over-priced for what is delivered. Law schools rely on bar review courses to teach gaps in legal doctrine necessary to pass the bar and recognize legal issues. They have externships under which students supposedly gain practical work experience, which is a good idea in theory, at least if students have completed courses offering adequate substantive knowledge. But that practical experience might be gained at least equally well working part time. But then the students would get paid, not the law schools who receive tuition payments while not having to teach the students. Why not just knock a semester or a year off required education and substitute a bar-required one-year apprenticeship with a lawyer to gain the requisite practical skills?

Joerg is himself a law professor, giving one reason to believe that he knows whereof he writes. I like his idea. I like it very much. Unfortunately, my liking of it is unlikely to effect any change in actual law school policies. After all, those schools, by and large have a vested interest in a continuing uniformity of approach to professional legal educations.

Joerg concludes:

We are not doing students (or the country) a favor by saddling people with a huge debt under which they will struggle for the next couple of decades and distorting the labor market by feeding illusions about the economic returns on investment of becoming an attorney. It is time for a more honest appraisal of the career limitations of advanced higher education, including law school, and for more restraint and realism in imposing costs on those who opt for that path.

Put another way, it’s time for more facts and less marketing fluff. Oh, and lets back off on the hope that all the law students will have the careers of lead characters from John Grisham novels.

The discussion about how the need for such a large number of lawyers as we currently have speaks to an underlying problem with the law will need to wait for another day.