Moving Deckchairs on the Titanic: A Case Study

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26 Responses

  1. Mad Rocket Scientist says:

    No offense to the legal profession, but this just seems like a market correction with regard to the supply of lawyers in the US. My impression is that the proliferation of law schools was something of an academic fad and more were created or expanded than were really needed.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:


      There is nothing to contradict a market correction and a profession that is doing everything it can to save itself 🙂

      When have you ever heard an industry admit “We are undergoing a market correction and are shutting down right now?” We always except this to happen or want to happen but the human thing to do is to try and hold on for as long as possible and hopefully be one of the people or institutions that survives and maybe thrives.

      Market correction is harder.

      There was a similar law school crisis in the early 1970s. My theory is that a lot of people went to law school (and other schools) to get out of the draft/Vietnam and once this was no longer a threat, things went down. Law Schools survived back then by admitting more women.

      This and some boom economies kept them alive.

      Another reason why it is hard to say market correction is that the legal market is vast. There might be a great need for lawyers but not at rates that can be justified with current tuition costs especially in legal representation for the poor. I’m pretty sure Legal Aid groups are not seeing a decline in people seeking aid.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

      True enough, although one would hope that attacking the standard test that all practicing attorneys must pass is something of a low move. The kind of thing desperate people of questionable character try in order to keep their personal good times rolling.Report

      • Saul Degraw in reply to Mad Rocket Scientist says:

        The big issue that being a law school professor and/or admin was a very good gig for a long time and considered a pretty cushy job at a very good salary.

        Add to this, the general industry belief that law professors were really good at law school but unable to hack it in the actual profession.Report

  2. Stillwater says:

    a Law School/Legal Employment Crisis.

    Booyah! I never get tired of you using that phrase, Saul. It’s so … appropriate.Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Stillwater says:

      Well this is gleefully snide.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Yeah, maybe so. I just don’t see any of this as a “crisis”. If there are too many law school students the only people to blame are the law school applicants who decided to attend. Programs are cranking out advanced degrees way ahead of demand in just about every other discipline as well. And it’s all of a piece with thinking that a degree, or an advanced degree, breaks down some sort of barrier to entering the land of high paying, white collar, job security.Report

      • Brandon Berg in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        It’s not a society-wide crisis, but it’s pretty rough on the people involved. Which is to say, it’s a crisis for law schools, i.e. a “law school crisis.”Report

      • Zane in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @stillwater “If there are too many law school students the only people to blame are the law school applicants who decided to attend.”

        I think it’s more complicated than that. The US faced what seemed to be a huge shortage of pharmacists a few years ago. Young folks entered 6-year-long pharmacy programs counting on having their pick of jobs when they were done. And there had been a shortage. But too many people acted on their knowledge and now graduate with huge debt and few jobs. Were people stupid to go into pharmacy?

        I’m reluctant to blame individuals solely when people act on what appears to be good information at the time. You and I may have thought that the pharmacist shortage would lead to a pharmacist glut, and we would have been right. But a similar shortage in nursing has not yet led to a glut. Why are those professions different and how would high school graduates and their parents know how to evaluate why they’re different?

        I’ll admit, law as a profession is different than pharmacology. There’s probably more romance and status associated with law, and those things influence decision-making. But schools oversell the prospects of their products and students get caught. Some of those students are foolish and some are unlucky, but in this glut of attorneys I feel much more for the students and the recent graduates than I do for the schools. As @brandon-berg notes, “…it’s pretty rough on the people involved.”Report

  3. Kazzy says:

    What does the number of scholarships offered have to do with anything?Report

    • Saul Degraw in reply to Kazzy says:

      The theory is that law schools dealt with declining enrollment by offering generous scholarships at first and then when enrollment continued to decline offering generous scholarships to students they would have considered not qualified for admission a few years ago.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        So, as enrollment waned, colleges responded by (in order):
        1) Expanding scholarships to qualified students
        2) Admitting unqualified students
        3) Offering scholarships to unqualified students

        Do I have that correct? It would seem then that the increased scholarships are both a symptom and a cause. Honestly, at what point do we start calling these places diploma mills? Certainly not all of them deserve such derision, but those that put enrollment numbers and the school’s financial bottom line so far above creating capable lawyers, the shoe seems to fit.Report

      • Kazzy in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        Great piece, @will-truman .Report

      • Zane in reply to Saul Degraw says:

        @will-truman The piece is interesting, but it mostly seems to be arguing that if the bar exam isn’t dumbed down, consumers can still count on having the same quality legal assistance they’ve had all along. (One could certainly argue that when there are problems, the issue often isn’t the intelligence of attorneys but their ethics, but that’s a separate issue.)

        Doesn’t it seem likely that more graduates will result in more people passing the bar? Even if the pass rate falls, I’m betting that there will still be more attorneys able to practice each year. This may all be to the advantage of consumers–more attorneys and a system for weeding out the stupid or poorly educated ones–but it’s pretty hard on the attorneys who bought into a dream of employment.Report

      • @zane The proliferation of law schools has definitely been a negative. This isn’t about that, though. The law schools aren’t expanding, but getting fewer applicants, which opens the separate danger of the loss of assumption that lawyers are smart. Unless the bar drops it’s standards, they should be able to at least have that in a way that graduates of Colleges of Education do not. Which lessens the hurt, at least a bit.Report

  4. Burt Likko says:

    Query as to why this is a bad thing. One of the reasons we have a bar exam in the first place is to make sure lawyers don’t start handling cases without at least a minimum level of competence. If law schools aren’t providing that, maybe they ought to consolidate. @mad-rocket-scientist calls it a “market correction” above and that seem right to me.

    Of course, another reason we have The Guild is to restrict the supply of people who provide our services, so as to increase the price for those services and thereby facilitate the enrichment of members of The Guild. So even if we were to go to a replacement-rate-only system for granting new law licenses, well, that’s what a Guild is for, isn’t it? FYIGM. The market will respond further and those law professors will have to go get real jobs and you know what? They’re smart. They’ll figure something out. Like the rest of us have been doing for years.

    Given that you hold a Guild Card same as me, @saul-degraw , you have the ability to say FYIGM too. So why not say, “Whatever. We already have too many lawyers! FYIGM!”?Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Saul is troubles by his social conscious.Report

    • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Burt Likko says:

      Re : guild

      Is the bar exam limited in some way as to who can take it? Seems to me a guild would actively control the numbers, like refusing to certify new law schools, or aggressively opposing expansions.Report

    • Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko says:


      Saul has never struck me as the FYIGM type. He and I may disagree on a whole host of things, but ‘selfish’ is never a term I’d lob at him.

      Nor at you, Counselor!

      Of course… I don’t think you REALLY mean what you say here. I mean, you may recognize it is good for the field and/or good for you personally, but I doubt you’d advocate a FYIGM approach.Report

      • Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy says:

        no, not in sobriety.

        but, it does make sense that there be limits on the number of people who become lawyers. not because we want to be able to come and I see these, but rather because lawyers possess tremendous ability to affect their clients lives, and ensuring a degree of expertise is important. also, for most kinds of transactions, lawyers represent one of the cost of having the transaction in the first place. We are, by nature of the fees that we charge, in the time that we consume, and inefficiency built into our economic system. Sometimes that inefficiency is worth it, but we should be wary of introducing too much of that in efficiency, notwithstanding the benefits that it brings.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:


        Still not very guild-ish in the traditional sense, since anyone who does the objective work & masters an objective set of knowledge can sit for the exam (whereas guilds had much more subjective criteria regarding who could practice their craft).Report

      • LeeEsq in reply to Kazzy says:

        Medical doctors are much better at guild-like behavior than lawyers. They take more steps to actively limit the number of doctors entering the market place by controlling the number of accredited med schools better and more. The bar exam is a limit but one that still allows lots of people to become lawyers.Report

      • Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Kazzy says:


        That has always been my understanding (although I’ve had doctors tell that isn’t true). Basically anyone can start a medical school, but if it isn’t AMA certified, it’s not worth anything.Report

    • Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      So why not say, “Whatever. We already have too many lawyers! FYIGM!”?

      Well, one reason is that it would cause people like me, who regret taking the advice of lawyers when I was younger about whether to go to law school too seriously, to have an A-Ha moment and decide to tell as many people as I can find not to listen to lawyers who are quite willing to share all the reasons to be wary about going to law school. In particular, not to trust their motivations for doing so.Report