Eliminate Law School?

Pundits have criticized law schools a great deal lately for their high tuition and somewhat questionable job placement rates. But coming up with a solution has been difficult. Well how about just… getting rid of them?

According to a piece by John McGinnis and Russell Mangas in the Wall Street Journal:

Here is a straightforward solution: States should permit undergraduate colleges to offer majors in law that will entitle graduates to take the bar exam. If they want to add a practical requirement, states could also ask graduates to serve one-year apprenticeships before becoming eligible for admission to the bar.

An undergraduate legal degree could be readily designed. A student could devote half of his course work to the major, which would allow him to approximate two years of legal study. There is substantial agreement in the profession that two years are enough to understand the essentials of the law—both the basics of our ancient common law and the innovations of our modern world. A one-year apprenticeship after graduation would allow young lawyers to replace the superfluous third year of law school with practical training.

With this change, law school debt would plummet. Furthermore, instead of saddling themselves with loans in order to earn a degree, American lawyers would be earning money in their apprenticeships.

It’s a relatively simple solution but it strikes me as very compelling. McGinnis, a law professor Northwestern University, and Mangas, an associate at Kirkland & Ellis, argue that there’s no real need for a separate 3-year graduate program in law.

As the writers explain, American colleges might still offer the traditional legal program, which people could undertake if they’re particularly wealthy or aiming for really fancy legal careers. The 3-year JD, however, shouldn’t be necessary for the relatively mundane legal jobs where most lawyers end up.

It makes sense. This is how America trained its lawyers for many years (this is still the case in a few states).

This undergraduate law degree program is also how lawyers train themselves in many foreign countries. It’s hard to argue that our separate law schools are producing people who are objectively better lawyers.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer