Law School Should Remain Accessible to All
Should Remain Accessible to All
legal profession and, in roughly the last 110 years or so, law schools have
always been a route to advancement in America.
At the presidential level, lawyers include, among others, Jefferson,
Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, Cleveland, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nixon, Clinton and
Obama. The numbers of state and federal
legislators who have been lawyers are legion.
The same for governors. Many high
corporate officials have been lawyers.
And none of this is even to mention that lawyers are prominent at
professional and civic levels ranging from Wall Street to small firms.
it is important that law schools and the law remain open to, remain a rite of
advancement for, the middle and lower economic classes. But such access is increasingly difficult to
come by. The reasons have to do with
elitism, failure to teach students what they need to know in order to practice,
and costs. The elitism has been with us
for scores of years. The failure to
teach the skills of practice have been with us almost as long. The staggering costs (tuitions) are a more
recent phenomenon. All of this, and much
more, is discussed in a new book by Brian Tamanaha, formerly a dean of the St.
John’s Law School and now a law professor at Washington University of St.
Louis. Many of Tamanaha’s criticism and
suggestions mirror the views and practices of the Massachusetts School of Law
since its inception in 1988.
criticisms made of law schools include the following: law professors’ salaries are very high (sometimes ranging into the
mid three hundred thousand dollar range or averaging
over $250,000). They are far higher than any other academic
fields except medicine. In part due to very high salaries, law school tuitions
are very high -- often being between $35,000 and more than $50,000 per
year. Law professors teach few hours of
class, making it necessary to have more professors in each school, which again
pushes up tuitions. Law professors are
entirely research oriented (although their research is of little or no benefit
to students); they have very little
experience in practice, lack knowledge of the arts and skills of practice, and
cannot teach such skills to students though most students wish to become
practicing lawyers. In pursuit of higher
US News rankings, law schools seek
students with, and give available financial assistance to, students with high LSAT
scores. This forces other, “lower
ranked” students, who pay full tuitions, to in effect pay the way of the
students with high LSATs. Again in
pursuit of high US News rankings,
some law schools have told falsehoods about their students’ LSAT scores,
undergraduate grade point averages, or starting salaries after graduation. Law schools have failed to prepare students
for bar examinations. By increasing
tuitions to astronomical levels, law schools have made it necessary for
students to take on very high amounts
of debt, often ranging between $100,000 and $135,000. These amounts of debt play hob with students’
lives after they graduate.
way to cure these problems, and to make legal education and its associated
social and economic mobility available to middle class and lower class
students, is to reverse the current practices (as our school has done). Professors should have extensive, and often continuing, experience in practice, teach the
arts and skills of practice to students.
Professors teach reasonable numbers of hours, not low amounts of
hours. They should focus on good teaching, rather than on research of
little or no value to students. They should
earn good but not astonishingly huge salaries.
Schools should eschew the inevitably elitist LSAT. They should prepare students for the bar
examination. And, by use of these and
similar techniques, tuition should and can be kept low – it can be kept to
between 15 and 20 thousand dollars per year, instead of not 35 or 40 or 45 or
50 thousand dollars per year.