Poor People Being Poor Is Not a Paradox

Ethan Bronner, “To Place Graduates, Law Schools Are Opening Firms,” The New York Times.

So Arizona State University is creating a law firm staffed by 30 graduates to handle cases at discount prices. Supposedly. Bronner writes:

The plan is one of a dozen efforts across the country to address two acute — and seemingly contradictory — problems: heavily indebted law graduates with no clients and a vast number of Americans unable to afford a lawyer.

This paradox, fed by the growth of Internet-based legal research and services, is at the heart of a crisis looming over the legal profession after decades of relentless growth and accumulated wealth. It is evident in the sharp drop in law school applications and the increasing numbers of Americans showing up in court without a lawyer.

There has not been relentless growth and accumulated wealth in the legal profession. Redistributed wealth yes, but that’s also true of American society generally. Otherwise, it’s been stagnant for decades.

Real GDP & Legal Sector Value Added (Billions 2005 $)

Also, there is no paradox in new lawyers being unwilling to serve the poor (“seemingly” indeed). Some experience matters, yes, but being able to afford an office, malpractice insurance, bar and CLE fees, etc. also matter too. It’s a lot easier to get a service-sector job and not worry about such risks.

ASU’s plan to create a self-sufficient firm that serves the poor within five years might not work:

“We charge $50 an hour, and I don’t take any pay,” said Dennis A. Gladwell, who runs a smaller firm at the University of Utah with a staff of five graduates started 16 months ago. “If you are going to charge $125, you are not going to serve an underserved population.” Mr. Gladwell, who retired as a partner from the big firm of Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, also said that despite having asked top local firms to send along cases they considered too small for themselves, none responded.

Ouch.

But more importantly, the school-firm idea, which I’m totally okay with, only works if you agree that lack of training is causing the poor to be underserved—and not poverty. If poverty is the culprit, then the school-firm will do one of two things: (a) “lose” money (higher tuition anyone?) to serve the poor, or (b) not serve the poor at all as Gladwell observes.

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4 Responses

  1. Not only will this not work but it’s symptomatic of the local cluelessness hereabouts, which I’ve covered at
    http://lawmrh.wordpress.com/2012/09/25/law-schools-imperiled-but-insiders-keep-ignoring-the-changing-tide/

    When your graduates can’t find jobs as lawyers, make up jobs for them. At least you can then tell US News & World Report that 30 of your grads have jobs.

    • And I didn’t even mention the grads Phoenix School of Law is pumping into the state.

      Good post though. I really like your style.

    • “cluelessness”

      It really isn’t honest stupidity on the part of the law schools – it is a carefully designed “structured stupidity” that serves as an excuse to keep doing business as usual (grossly inflated tuitions, grossly inflated class sizes).

      Basically the schools and the check-cashers within them will say and do essentially anything – up to and including fraud (witness…history) – in order to keep their cash-flow constant.

      Thus the endless bullshit repetition of “serving the underserved”, how the “crisis” really only “suddenly” began in 2008 (despite half the JDs graduated over the last 40 years having disappeared from BLS stats), how USN&WR measurement “made” them cheat, blah blah blah…fuckity fuck fuck fuck…

      Basically, the phrase “as dishonest as a law school dean” is finally about to enter into the permanent lexicon of American curses.

      Finally.

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