Thoughts on Reading Mary’s Post about Declining Law School Enrollments

 

Recently, Mary Lynch posted excerpts from ABA commentary on the decline of law school applications. A serious problem in academia, fueled by, it appears from the evidence reviewed by the ABA, a shocking downturn in the number of jobs for lawyers. Even before the economic downturn, of course, there were warnings about the glut of law school graduates, especially in large urban areas.

There are equally stunning – no, far more dramatic – numbers coming out of other corners. The numbers to which I refer are those illuminating the extent to which there are unmet legal needs in this country. Certainly, there is a crisis in legal representation for low income people; estimates out of many states suggest about 80% of the legal assistance needs of the poor go unmet. The demand in domestic cases, family court, immigration matters, housing court, consumer cases, and criminal matters, just to name a few areas, far exceeds the response. Nor is it just the poor whose need for services remains unmet. Middle classers caught up in employment disputes, getting divorces, trying to set up and manage small businesses, faced with consumer problems, unclear about how to handle insurance, taxes, wills, and loans, often are unable to access lawyers at an affordable rate.

 

And still the picture is not complete.  Many of the studies of unmet legal needs focus on “litigants,” thus limiting the roles of lawyers to negotiators and courtroom advocates. But in all manner of contexts – in management systems, nonprofits, agencies, schools and churches and hospitals, in the media, on boards and in centers – wherever problems are simmering and problem-solving is called for, there is likely to be a benefit from service by a legally-trained mind.

 

These are not separate, disconnected issues, are they? The benefits of legal education are many, the need for lawyers is great. We know the law schools and the ABA have a responsibility for leadership in correcting the imbalances of too much need, too few “jobs,” too few applicants, too much tuition, too many agendas, too disjointed a vision. Our concern for our own livelihoods in academia dovetails with the concerns of ordinary people about negotiating laws and legal terrain. Maybe 2014 will bring some epiphanies on how to problem-solve these things together.

 

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One Response

  1. What we need is some focused scholarship by law and business professors on how to provide legal services for under $200/hour and still make a decent living. Unbundling, tech, blended forms plus individualized but limited advice — these are the types of initiatives that are going to allow lawyers to provide lower and middle income people and small businesses access to appropriate legal services. But, by and large, civil legal aid attorneys do not have the resources to research and develop those initiatives, nor do most small firms. A school that developed a think tank and/or incubator focused on these goals would be very popular, at least with the students I serve. Most of the students/alums from my large public university are interested in regional small or mid-size firm work, or public interest. They are ideally positioned to pilot these innovations, but cannot do so without some support/training in law school, and some reduced debt burden post-grad.

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