Legal education

The Law School Crisis Is a Keynesian Crisis

Dear Dean Chemerinsky,

I enjoyed your Op-Ed with Carrie Menkel-Meadow in the Times today and agree with its conclusion that the crisis in law school enrollments doesn’t call for reform to legal education.  But I think there’s a better economic argument for why that is the case.

Everyone agrees that the drop in enrollments is driven by a drop in demand for lawyers.  If that drop in demand had come about because some competitor to law schools were producing better lawyers, then it would be reasonable to think that law schools need to improve their product in order to compete.  But here’s the thing: law schools as a group have no competitors.  The only way to become a lawyer is to go to law school.  And, in aggregate, employers who need to hire lawyers have to hire the lawyers law schools produce, regardless of quality.  They have nowhere else to turn.

So the drop in demand for legal services simply isn’t driven by a lack of competitiveness; it’s got nothing to do with the quality of legal education.  It’s got a lot to do instead with the weak economy and with a lack of commitment on the part of the government to ensuring access to justice for all Americans.  If medicine were not heavily subsidized by the government, medical schools would be in the same pickle as law schools.  You would have MDs working at Starbucks while trauma patients bleed to death in the streets.  Instead, today we have JDs working at Starbucks while desperate homeowners try to defend against foreclosure pro se.

The solution to the problem is for law schools to go to Washington and demand more subsidization of legal services for regular Americans.  The enrollments crisis is a Keynesian crisis.  Unemployment due to lack of demand.  As in all such crises the solution is not to blame the worker (or, in this case, the law school).  Instead, the solution is government stimulus; a stimulus that in the case of the legal market can bring about more justice in addition to saving law schools from themselves.