Too many lawyers

Even law professors are beginning to think so:

This week I’m planning to write about various widespread but in my view mistaken beliefs regarding the intensifying crisis in American legal education. I’m going to start with this one: The biggest problem with American legal education is that it fails to produce practice-ready graduates.

This claim has been made by critics of the legal academic establishment for roughly a century now (every 15 years or so some sort of quasi-official report reiterates it). It was a topic of discussion at a law school symposium this weekend on the future of the legal profession, and is apparently a theme of Jim Molitenrno’s forthcoming book, A Profession in Crisis, which argues that the fundamental problems with legal education today are in large part products of the fact that more than a century ago “medical schools decided that their mission would be to turn out doctors, while law schools decided that their mission would be to turn out law professors.”

Now the claim that law schools remain largely indifferent to the fact that law school teaches law students almost nothing about the practice of law is itself quite true. What isn’t the case is that this fact has in itself much to do with the increasingly unacceptable relationship between the cost of a law degree and the economic benefits it confers. Making graduates practice-ready is a fine idea in theory — why else are law students going to law school anyway? — but if such reforms do nothing about, or worse yet exacerbate, the crumbling cost-benefit structure of legal education they will do nothing about this fundamental structural problem. … Any reform that doesn’t make legal education less expensive while reducing the number of new attorneys is doing nothing about the real crisis, which is that law school costs far too much relative to the number of jobs available for attorneys.

Of course, unemployment is not the real problem with producing two lawyers for every one legal job. The primary problem is that lawyers are one of the few professions where they can easily create demand for their services at the expense of everyone else in society. It’s as if doctors were out there breaking legs and releasing flu viruses in order to ensure a growing demand for their services.