Coming to a State Bar near You ¬– Beggar Thy Neighbor

In my last post on the Massachusetts Bar Association’s underemployment report, I was flying blind because the link to the report was broken, and it wasn’t readily available on the MBA’s Web site. It’s up today, so I can give it a fairer read, and I was surprised to find two endnotes to the LSTB. Yay. More importantly I can give it a fairer review instead of criticizing its co-chairpersons’s public statements. Go to the source…

Link here.

I won’t spend too much time on the report, especially since I’m not a Massachusetts lawyer, but the report has a few novel ideas that I haven’t seen batted around. Here’s my outline.

I. Comparison to Medical and Dental Schools and ‘Reinventing’ the Third Year

“Currently, there is no appreciable underemployment in the medical profession … While comparisons are myriad, there are several striking differences between the medical school and law school teaching models. First, the number of students admitted to medical school is tightly controlled.” (3)

This might explain why physicians can have catastrophic levels of education debt without med school scamblogs proliferating. A current and projected shortage means that no matter what med students learn in class, they won’t have an underemployment problem.

“By comparison to recent law school statistics, there is no appreciable underemployment among recently minted dentists … As with the medical profession, the number of students admitted to dental school appears carefully regulated.” (4)

Ditto.

Let me be clear, engineering a shortage of practitioners is bad for the economy and is indefensible on moral grounds. It drives up prices because sick people have no alternatives and must pay wages and rents for medical services (unless they leave the country, e.g. destination surgery). Advocating the same for legal education is no less unconscionable. However, in both cases the report starts with “Interestingly, profession x has no underemployment problem,” and ends with “Profession x also happens to severely limit entry into its ranks,” and then discusses profession x’s education model as though that’s what causes its non-underemployment problem.

As a result, while programs like Northeastern’s cooperative model might help, even if every law school in the state adopts it, there will still be underemployed graduates. The solution to the problem must address the problem.

II. Encouraging U.S. News to Add a “Practical Training Element” to Its Rankings

“Because the criteria used in the U.S. News rankings incentivizes law schools to adjust their programs to achieve higher rankings in those areas, one way to motivate law schools to change their curriculum so as to have a greater practical focus would be if one of the criteria used in the ranking system was the effectiveness of the law school in preparing its graduates for the practice of law.” (8)

Wait, shouldn’t “practice preparation” be the primary criterion U.S. News uses to rank law schools? Maybe job placement after that? It’s a decent idea, but U.S. News is a for-profit magazine and since it already has law schools over a barrel, I don’t see it changing its methodology a whole lot to accommodate them. More importantly, we should be looking for solutions that diminish U.S. News‘ hegemonic role in determining law schools’ fates. I see it as part of the problem, not the solution.

III. Legal Residency Program

“A legal residency program, conducted under the auspices of the MBA (in partnership with the Board of Bar Overseers and participating Massachusetts-based law schools and law firms), would be the most comprehensive approach to providing practical training for new lawyers. In such a program, recent law school graduates could apply for legal residency positions with Massachusetts law firms participating in residency training.” (9)

This is good idea, except the problem is there are too many law graduates. Having a bottleneck of residency applicants just illustrates the problem.

IV. (I’m skipping the MBA’s discussion on improving law school transparency…)

V. …The Good Stuff! “Obstacles to Employment” (15)

The MBA discusses cunning plans it can use to reduce the number of lawyers in-state.

(a)   Lowering the Bar Passage Rate – The problem isn’t that too many people are passing the Massachusetts bar exam; the problem is that there are too many law schools and law graduates.

(b)  Limiting Reciprocity – The MBA wisely concluded that making it harder for out-state lawyers to obtain a Massachusetts license would do more harm than good.

(c)   Reciprocal Pro Hac Vice Rules – Instead of the current system of liberally allowing out-state attorneys to represent clients in Massachusetts, the MBA wants to close the valve to give more work to its own lawyers. No discussion of costs to clients.

(d)  “Establish Incentives to Explore Legal Practice Outside of the Commonwealth upon Graduation” – This, my reader, is the kicker.

“In an effort to better manage the volume of graduates from the nine Massachusetts law schools entering the Massachusetts legal community, or until such time as market forces reduce the oversupply of lawyers seeking employment in Massachusetts, the task force recommends that Massachusetts law schools increase exposure to legal practice opportunities in the surrounding five New England states. This exposure would provide additional employment opportunities for Massachusetts law school graduates while decreasing the load on the existing Massachusetts legal job market.”

State bar association adapts “beggar thy neighbor” philosophy to its law graduate surplus problem, dumping them on its adjacent states. The problem is there is no neighbor that has a lawyer shortage itself. Though tiny, since 1940 New England’s population hasn’t even doubled, but its number of law schools has nearly tripled. It is currently the most law-school saturated region in the United States. Even if places like Roger Williams closed shop, it’s not like Rhode Island would suddenly have a huge lawyer shortage.

VI. The Law School Law Firm

The MBA closes with a bunch of recommendations for soaking up unemployed law graduates, the most interesting one is the “law school law firm,” which is a non-profit law firm staffed by grizzled elder lawyers and employing law graduates to help them learn the ropes. It’s a good idea, but if it’s so effective, why not simply make law a college degree and have them go through this process?

In conclusion, after reading the report myself, I liked my idea in my previous post: tell Massachusetts’ law schools to draw straws.

3 comments

  1. Eric Parker and I went to Suffolk Law together. Smart as a whip great trial attorney and one of the few who uses all kinds of social media to promote his business ( that what a law firm is). Reality is we have too many law schools. I was left the practice only to come back again this year. I’m making less than when I graduated from law school. My colleagues are in the same boat. The court appoint lawyers are having there jobs eliminated, fees reduced or questioned (budgets). And yet there are areas which are completely under served. Here the paradigm from medical programs could be used. Question is how to fund it. Doctors have insurance a pain but creates a huge pool of paying clients in return its a regulated fee structure.
    The MBA has been batting this issue around for awhile. Should have had better solutions. Then again some of it’s members are either professors, deans or trustees at law schools.

  2. How is a ‘law student residency program’ different from a less-compensated associate? Aren’t firms already doing that?

  3. The big difference between medical education and law is that med schools aren’t money makers the way law schools are. It costs a ton to run a med school. That’s, in my opinion, why we haven’t seen a ‘med school scam’.

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