Last week Jeffrey Toobin joined the growing chorus decrying the state of legal education in his article in the New Yorker entitled “The Legal One Percent”. One might expect this nationally renowned legal expert, CNN commentator and author of numerous books on legal issues, to write a thoughtful and inspiring piece on the changes facing legal education and the legal market in general. Instead, what Toobin gives us is an intellectually lazy finger-wagging at law schools, boldly asserting that our “system of professional education” is “directly contributing to inequality.”
This inequality, according to Toobin, is related solely to income. He notes that lawyers working “at the top of the pyramid” at white shoe firms like, for example, Cravath, Swaine, and Moore (his example, not mine) are earning “profits per partner in the multimillions.”
Toobin goes on to characterize “recent law school graduates” as those “at the bottom of the pyramid” and cites the Atlantic for the statistic that “[m]ore than 180 of the 200 US law schools are unable to find jobs for more than 80% of their graduates.”
I have no quibble with Toobin’s data or his freedom to express his opinion about the state of legal education. I do find it ironic that he took the time to write what could have been a thoughtful piece on the subject in such a time of change, and then simply pointed out that law firm partners make more than young lawyers and that new lawyers are finding it hard to land jobs in the softest economy this nation has seen in a generation.
More troubling, though, is his assertion that law schools are “exploiting” their applicants; and his utter failure to address the massive dearth of access to legal assistance faced by this nation’s citizens–not its law graduates–at the “bottom of the pyramid.”
Finally, Toobin, makes the assertion that “[t]he vast middle of the legal academy—at the big state schools, for instance—is doing only a little better than the schools at the bottom.” He seems to be referring to debt load of graduates, but fails to contextualize the assertion at all. And what of the actual justice-serving work that we in Toobin’s so-called vast middle of the legal academy are engaged in? What of the successful petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights by the University of Miami’s human rights clinic faculty and students on a domestic violence case, yielding a globally landmark decision on police practices in domestic violence cases? What of the MacArthur Foundation grant awarded to Professor Sarah Deer of William Mitchell College of Law to continue her legal work empowering tribal nations to protect their citizens from violence?
Perhaps Toobin’s article title includes the term One Percent because he focused on them, rather than the Occupiers.
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