At Texas Public Policy Foundation, Andrew Gillen has been doing some excellent work analyzing higher education. In a recent study, he used the Obama administration’s “Gainful Employment” methodology to see how law schools would fare if they were put to that test.
What he found was that the great majority of the schools would fail, which is to say that their graduates don’t earn enough to reasonably cover the debts they incur in getting their degrees.***
There is a large need for lawyers in America, but much of the legal work doesn’t pay well enough to justify the huge expense in time and money it takes to get into the field. For that, the American Bar Association is the culprit, since it insists on a needlessly burdensome model of legal education.
My suggestion is that state governments stop mandating graduation from an ABA-accredited school before anyone can take the bar exam. Where one learns the material shouldn’t matter.
When I was in law school some states, like Georgia, still allowed people who "read the law" (didn't attend law school) to take the bar exam. Legal secretaries often took this route and became successful lawyers. The ABA model described has always seemed to me like a "restraint of trade" pretending to be a quality control mechanism.
The other big secret is that attending law school does not, at least in my experience, prepare you for the bar exams, or even, really, much in the way of the practice of law. Instead, aspiring lawyers take various bar preparation courses that give you a rapid survey of the things that appear on bar exams, usually tied to the important legal aspects of the state whose bar you'll be taking. For example, I took bar exams in Georgia and Texas. To get up to speed for these bar exams, I took bar review courses. Not surprisingly, the Texas bar exam had questions on oil and gas law, the Georgia exam did not. The Texas bar review course covered it sufficiently for me to pass the Texas bar. See here for a listing of such courses, some of which may cost in the thousands of dollars above your law school costs. See here
Looking back, my view is that law school should take, at most, about 18 months not 3 years, and the the bulk of the important legal learning is in the first 6 months. The rest of the time could better be used to take practical topics in areas where a student thinks they might want to practice, like estate planning, maritime law, or real property law. For those who plan to become criminal defense attorneys or prosecutors, legal clinics are a great help. The idea of legal apprentices needs to be revived.
I have seen the results of the overproduction of attorneys.
Much legal "document review" work is contracted out to firms that hire recent law school grads or use offshore document reviewers. All use some sort of computerized key word document review scan to highlight certain key words or word groupings to make the hunt for privileged documents easier. But there's still a great deal of need for attorney reviewers to scan thousands of pages of documents.
Competition in this review business is high, and the result is that some review firms pay the bare minimum for human reviewers.
The reviewers, many of whom have significant debt from both undergrad and law school loans, taked these jobs because they have few other options. Too inexperienced to start their own firm, too low on the quality of their law school and/or class standing totem pole to get the fabled "high paying jobs," they become contract attorneys for review firms pitched as "cost savers." Being a contract attorney generally means few, if any, employment benefits.
There are even firms that specialize in recruiting and staffing document reviewers, see here:
We created DocReviewers.com to provide a better document review experience.
That means simplifying the recruitment process. One DocReviewers.com application makes you eligible for projects from multiple agencies and firms, including those you haven’t already worked with. It also means automating your conflicts and availability. You’ll receive invites to projects happening when you’re available and conflicts forms will become a thing of the past.