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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Legal Ed's Futures: No. 22 (guest post)

In Legal Ed’s Futures #14, Dan Hunter makes the “modest proposal” of allowing universities to offer a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree leading to the practice of law. My experience with this in a wide variety of other countries and cultures indicates that such reform might be much easier than one might first imagine.

Many proposed law school reforms, such as shortening the JD to 2 years, or replacing the third year with an externship, face considerable headwinds from existing faculty (and law school finances) for whom such reforms would threaten job and financial stability. Such reforms also would face headwinds from existing lawyers who would perceive the reforms as threatening their own status, prestige, and income. However, similar challenges to an LLB program are far from insurmountable.

From an institutional perspective, my experience in countries with LLBs is that the number of students in such programs exceeds by several factors the number of students in traditional J.D. or J.D.-equivalent programs. Many if not most LLB students do not intend to take the bar exam, but see the LLB as preparation for a job in civil service, middle management, or public advocacy. For universities with or without existing law schools, the LLB market is a huge potential untapped revenue stream. For universities with a law school, the LLB is an ideal feeder program -- and it provides advantages of scale because JD and LLB students can sometimes be enrolled in the same course.

From a faculty perspective, the exponential expansion in law student enrollment would commensurately expand teaching opportunities. One possible rub would be stratification – in prestige, teaching load, class size, research expectations/opportunities – between faculty teaching in the LLB program versus faculty teaching in the JD program. However, again, this problem is hardly insurmountable. At universities with both JD and LLB programs, teaching and research responsibilities could be spread equitably, or could be divided based in part on expertise or qualifications (however defined) or seniority.

From the perspective of existing JD graduates, one would expect much short-term wailing and gnashing of teeth as JD-holders complain that the market is about to be flooded with unqualified new entrants. Within a few short years, however, I expect that the market will become self-correcting via job-qualification stratification. Similarly, Career Services offices will need to plan proactively to help facilitate demand for a new degree for which the job market is not currently accustomed.

Megan Carpenter, Kellye Testy, Deborah Merritt, and others writing on this thread of Legal Ed’s Futures all have made the basic (and very accurate) point that legal education has priced itself (in both pecuniary and opportunity costs) out of all but the most lucrative markets, to the detriment of society generally. Permitting an LLB as Dan suggests would go a long way toward righting that ship.

Rick Bales (Ohio Northern)

Posted by Dan Rodriguez on March 15, 2018 at 10:41 AM in 2018 Symposium: Future of Legal Ed | Permalink

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