These are challenging times in law schools. Law school enrollments remain low and graduate unemployment remains high. Many claim there are too many lawyers to go around and law schools are just making matters worse by continuing to educate prospective lawyers. But the problem is not really that there are too many lawyers. Indeed, roughly 80% of low-income and half of middle-income Americans face their legal problems without a lawyer. Too many face their legal issues without the benefit of legal representation at a time when too many law school graduates are unemployed or underemployed. In order to overcome this paradox, I argue in a forthcoming piece in the Georgetown Journal on Poverty Law & Policy, that law schools should embrace an access-to-justice mission, one that would help focus law school teaching, scholarship, and service on the justice gap and help align the interests of those who want to ensure everyone has access to a lawyer who needs one with those who want law schools to continue the important work of educating the next generation of lawyers. Below is the abstract to “When Interests Converge: An Access-to-Justice Mission for Law Schools.” A draft can be downloaded here. Comments welcome.
In recent years, law schools have faced a crisis brought on by the external forces of technology, automation, and legal process outsourcing that has translated into poor job prospects for their graduates, and, in turn, a diminution in the number of students interested in attending law schools. Such external phenomena are joined by internal critiques of law schools: that they have failed to educate their students adequately for the practice of law and have adopted dubious strategies without a defining mission, all at a time when the market for legal services seems to be changing, perhaps dramatically. Paradoxically, while graduates face diminished job prospects, there is still a vast justice gap: the inability of millions of Americans to obtain legal assistance when facing a legal problem. There is thus an interest convergence between those who might want access to a lawyer and the law schools that strive to educate the next generation of lawyers and the ones after that. This Article uses this interest convergence—and the late Derrick Bell’s “Interest Convergence Theory” as a lens through which to view it—as an opportunity for law schools to retool their missions to confront the access-to-justice crisis facing many Americans. It argues that law schools should embrace an access-to-justice component to their missions to help increase demand for legal services, re-establish the value of legal assistance to the community, restore the importance of the legal profession in preserving and extending societally important rights and interests, and improve the demand for legal education.