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Friday, March 14, 2014

Sound familiar?

It isn't only legal education.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 14, 2014 at 03:04 PM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

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Comparing law school to med school is really comparing apples to oranges. There's a bunch of factors going on here:

(1) Undergraduate education. The argument that doctors don't need 4 years of undergraduate education before going to med school is more an indictment of undergraduate education than of medical education. I think most people I know with advanced degrees could argue that one or two years of undergraduate education would have sufficed to prepare them for the higher degree. The question of whether we should have a fixed 4-year program of undergraduate education is a discussion worth having in and of itself.

(2) Professional school. The best way to compare apples to apples is to compare the three years of law school with the first *two years* of medical school. Medical students do all of their "book learning" in two years - arguably acquiring a lot more knowledge than law students do in three - and then take the USMLE Step 1 exam (closest equivalent to the bar exam) after their second year. The third and fourth years of med school are more akin to on-the-job training, which is exactly what law school reformers are pushing for all the time. (Fourth year gets criticized a lot for being so easy, but med students spend a good deal of this time jetting around the country interviewing for residency programs.)

(3) Residency. I can't really speak to whether residency for a particular field should take 3 years, or 6, or 10. But during this time, residents are licensed practitioners earning a salary. This is really more akin to arguing about how long it should take for an associate to make partner, and not how long the education should be.

Posted by: Matt S. | Mar 14, 2014 3:39:53 PM

While I agree it's not quite apples to apples, there are similar concerns having to do with the incentives of incumbents and the incentives of gatekeepers lining up to produce ever higher and more expensive barriers to entry.

I'm hard pressed to think of any licensed industry that hasn't in the last 50-75 years seen inflation in certification requirements. Pharmacist for example used to be an four year program out of high school, and that was when they all had to actually manufacture medicines. Now it's at least twice as long.

Posted by: brad | Mar 14, 2014 4:03:02 PM

It sounds vaguely similar but the underlying situations are very different, opposite even. There is a shortage of medical schools. There is a glut of law schools.

Posted by: AF | Mar 14, 2014 7:50:20 PM

These couldn't be more different. Shorter, more streamlined medical school may be necessary to meet increased needs for qualified physicians. There is no such need for additional lawyers. You could close the bottom half of law schools and there would be no shortage of lawyers. The proposed elimination of 3L year is to ease the mountains of debt law students incur. It will do nothing to right size supply with demand. Legal education could learn a lot more from community colleges teaching auto or HVAC repair. Lawyers are closer to mechanics than doctors (although the demand for HVAC repairmen is growing, unlike the demand for legal services....). If anything, there should be more barriers to entry to the profession to right size demand.

Posted by: Abel | Mar 16, 2014 10:58:18 AM

Just as there has always been, there's today huge swaths of society that can't afford legal representation and so go without. That's a huge unmet demand for *affordable* lawyers. But you aren't going it get them out of a system that sets up a $150k + 3 years opportunity cost barrier to entry (and no some piecemeal clinics as part of said gold plated barrier to entry isn't going to make a dent.)

Posted by: brad | Mar 17, 2014 12:59:43 AM

It's a total myth that there's a "huge unmet demand for affordable lawyers" unless you mean lawyers who are willing to work for nothing or next to nothing -- i.e. lawyers who don't exist in private practice and never will.

There are lots of lawyers in practice who have no student loans, but they aren't any more willing or able to work for nothing than are indebted new graduates. The problem would continue to exist even if all law schools started charging zero fees starting tomorrow.

The solution is proper public funding of legal services for the poor.

Posted by: Lois Turner | Mar 17, 2014 6:07:06 PM

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