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.
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.
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.