Impacts of “the Market” on Legal Education

Some have argued that the way to improve, even save, legal education is by reducing or eliminating regulations imposed by the accrediting body (i.e., the ABA Council of the Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar).  One strand of thought predicts, reasonably, that significant innovations in information technology and expanding globalization will only continue to change what society needs lawyers to be able to do.  Our notably rigid and change-resistant system of legal education is, so the argument goes, most likely to progress by letting the market decide what legal education should become.

The economic analysis is, frankly, beyond me, but it raises a number of questions when approached from the perspective of making education of lawyers the primary goal.  First, isn’t “the market” ultimately directed at making a profit, and if so, should educational institutions be ruled by that system?  Or, is that ultimately where we are now, with “big law” firms historically benefitting most from the system we have?  Would eliminating centralized oversight of law schools push them, individually, to provide the type of education today’s lawyers need?

Market forces impacting legal education include the decisions made by prospective students (school selection, course and program enrollment), by legal employers (hiring, areas of practice), and by clients (retaining representation).  It seems unlikely that people who even now have difficulty hiring a lawyer would be any better able to impact the development of unregulated, market-based legal education, to get what they need out of the market.  Does the concept of justice have an impact on the market?

Perhaps the market already, even beneficially, impacts the imperfect, regulated system of legal education we now have.  Some law schools have recently announced that they are decreasing enrollment due to the lack of jobs available for graduates.  Observers may ask whether this decrease is being done voluntarily, for moral reasons, or in response to economic imperatives.  But if the demand for law school enrollment continues to be strong, despite the paucity of post-graduate jobs, do we blame the market or the consumer?  As David Lat writes concerning the decreased enrollment some law schools have recently announced, “Can law schools and their administrators be condemned as unethical for scamming their students, when really they’re just providing a good to a market?  A market full of consumers who continue to demand the good, even after being warned of its dangers?”

I tend to agree more with a statement made by my political science professor friend, speaking with a disgruntled student who characterized himself as a consumer, “You’re not the consumer; you’re the product.”


One Response

  1. Margaret, as usual, your thoughtful commentary really hit home. Your point about the inability of those who currently struggle for access to justice to help “regulate” the market “good” of justice reveals in a very poignant way just how warped an unfettered market approach can be.

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