The path of the law school: three implementable law school reforms.

Author:Lamb, Jared
Position:Introduction to III. Recommendations A. Recommendation One: Mentorship Programs, p. 343-377


This article examines the past, present, and possible future of legal education. In the process, it advocates for three law school reforms that may improve the quality of education while simultaneously decreasing attendance costs for students. The first recommended reform is for law schools to implement mentorship programs for all of their law students before graduation. The second recommended reform is for the use of alternative learning environments. This recommendation encompasses the integration of group learning and examination, discussion sections, and practice plans with traditional law school pedagogy. The third recommended reform is for law school-centric continuing legal education requirements. Overall, these reforms target improvements to the quality of education that will simultaneously decrease attendance costs for students.

TABLE OF CONTENTS INTRODUCTION I. THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN LEGAL EDUCATION A. English Roots B. Christopher Langdell C. Twentieth Century Legal Education II. RECENT DEVELOPMENTS A. Difficulties for the Law School Community B. Difficulties for the Legal Community C. Legal Challenges to the Legal Education Actors III. RECOMMENDATIONS A. Recommendation One: Mentorship Programs B. Recommendation Two: Alternative Learning Environments C. Recommendation Three: Continuing Legal Education and Beyond CONCLUSION APPENDIX A INTRODUCTION

"Laws without morals are useless." (1) "Light and law." (2) "Love ye Truth and Justice." (3) Experience Teaches. (4) Almost every university in the United States has a motto. While most law schools do not have their own motto, many borrow from their parent university. Yet the role, goals, and methods of a legal education are not the same as they are for undergraduate or even other graduate schools. (5) Like these universities' historic mottos, the core of legal education has changed little over the past one hundred years. While this Article addresses the problems inherent with the predominant modern form of legal education, the intended focus is on solutions to the problems that have existed for decades. "In spite of the hazards, go forward." (6)

One of the most apparent aspects of change in legal education over the past fifty years is price. At the University of Michigan Law School, tuition in 1950 was $105 per semester if you were a Michigan resident. If you were from out-of-state, tuition was $225 per semester. (7) In 2009, in-state and out-of-state students paid nearly the same amount, but both amounts have gone up by over 9,000% ($20,655 per semester and $22,115 per semester, respectively). (8) Adjusted for inflation, the 1950 tuition rate would still only be approximately $935 and $2,003 in 2009 dollars. (9) The University of Michigan Law School is not alone; from 1985 to 2009, the average tuition at law schools went from approximately $2,000 to over $35,000. (10)

In some ways, students are getting increased value from the tuition increases. The average student to faculty ratio at law schools has decreased by approximately 40% from twenty-four to fourteen students per faculty member. (11) From 1990 to 2004 alone, the median starting salary of law school graduates increased by 50% across all firm sizes. (12) For the largest law firms, with over 500 attorneys, the median starting salary jumped nearly 80% from $70,000 per year in 1990 to $125,000 in 2004. (13) Median starting salaries continued to climb to $160,000 in many of the major legal employment cities across the United States until 2009. However, over the past several years, law students have experienced stagnant and deteriorating conditions, such as worse educational and employment outcomes. (14)

Regardless of whether the fluctuating legal job market rebounds in the next several years, the largest difficulty facing the legal community is unhappiness. (15) This unhappiness is frequently caused by burdensome student loans and high (but justifiable) expectations from law firms. (16) Law schools, as the gateway into the legal profession, play an important role in shaping the lives and expectations of young attorneys after they graduate. (17)

This article will focus on pedagogical changes that will improve the quality of legal education so that lawyers are better prepared to deal with the practice of law immediately after graduation. This article will also focus on revenue generating modifications that will reduce the cost of tuition so that lawyers are less likely to be burdened with substantial student debt after graduation. These two types of reform are often thought of as being at odds with each other. Improvements to pedagogy often increase the cost of legal education, while revenue-generating ideas often require a sacrifice in pedagogical quality. (18) The three reforms in this article, when implemented successfully, may allow law schools to circumvent this general tension between the two types of reform. (19)

Specifically, this article assesses the established model of legal education, explores past successes, identifies current problems, and advocates for three potential reforms. Part I of this article briefly discusses the history of modern legal education, including the apprenticeship model, Christopher Langdell's contributions to legal education, and Twentieth Century adaptations. Part II of this article summarizes recent developments that affect law schools and the legal community at large. Part III of this article describes three law school reforms: mentorship programs, alternative learning environments, and law school-centric continuing legal education requirements. The overarching goal of each reform is to better position new entrants to the profession by improving the quality of legal education and reducing the cost of attendance for students.


    "One of the most striking circumstances connected with our profession today seems to me to be the prodigious and rapidly increasing numbers of those who are constantly pressing for admission into its ranks. New law schools are multiplying on every side. Every university must be provided with one, every college must be provided with one. The attractive illusion that the practice of law affords a sure field in which fortune and fame may be secured seems to be very widely prevalent."

    --James C. Carter in 1895. (20)

    1. English Roots

      In the United States, legal education has developed without much government intervention. (21) The United States Department of Education does not directly regulate law schools; and state departments of education generally have little influence over legal education. (22) The judiciary generally has the ultimate power over the legal profession, but "[w]ith the authority of the courts standing behind them, the legal profession is able to be largely self-governing under court delegation and supervision." (23) Standardization of legal education is effectively controlled by the accreditation process of the ABA's Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. (24) However, the Section of Legal Education was not formed until 1893. (25) Furthermore, the technically non-mandatory accreditation standards contrast with the extensive regulation and domination of legal education by ministries of education or ministries of justice in most countries. (26) The relatively relaxed standards of American legal education allow for robust competition among law schools for students, professors, and prestige. The lack of regulation also allows for experimentation in pedagogy and structure based upon future ideas and past experience.

      Since the colonization of America, the American legal system has been inspired by and relied upon the precedents of the English judicial system. (27) With precedential commonalities, it was a natural outgrowth of this relationship that American legal education would begin by following the traditions of English legal education as well. (28) In fact, before the American Revolution, many colonial law students went to the Inns of Court in London for a legal education. (29) Even experienced lawyers traveled to London to see cases held at Westminster Hall on an ad hoc basis. (30)

      American lawyers relied upon English treatises, such as William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England. (31) The legal profession developed significantly in the buildup to the Revolution and each colony had "a bar of trained, able, and respected professionals, capable of working with a refined and technical system." (32) In fact, nearly half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of the burgeoning legal profession. (33)

      Beyond borrowing English treatises, the structure of American legal education also closely mirrored the English educational system. (34) An undergraduate education was not a formal requirement to become a lawyer. (35) However, even by the 1740s, some lawyers began their studies at a college before embarking on an apprenticeship. (36) Regardless of undergraduate education, lawyers chose to rely upon an apprenticeship under an established lawyer. (37) The mentors were rewarded with the capable apprentice's labor and apprentices benefitted from the lawyer's knowledge, connections, and tutelage.

      Apprenticeships generally combined direct observation, conversation with the mentor, readings, and routine labor. (38) Many of the most distinguished attorneys in our country's early history, such as Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Story, and Daniel Webster, were trained through the apprenticeship model. (39) Thomas Jefferson was a vocal critic of the apprenticeship model, which allowed busy attorneys to neglect their apprentices. (40)

      Given the flexibility in the apprenticeship system and a lack of documentation regarding typical practices, "[i]t is very difficult to reach any firm conclusions about the general quality of apprenticeship training." (41) This lack of standardization was the overall impetus for the growth of law schools. Around...

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