Saturday, March 2, 2013

Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Dean Michelle J. Anderson on The Legal Education Crisis

There are multiple aspects to the legal education and legal industry crisis.  There is the lack of jobs for recent graduates.  There is the crushing debt that many law school graduates face.  There is a need for reform in how law schools deliver instruction.  Although we have discussed it on this blog (here and here), one aspect of the crisis that has not received a great deal of attention is the unmet needs for legal services by the poor and middle class.  Now, Dean Michelle J. Anderson has weighed into this important issue in her comment to the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.

Dean Anderson writes, "I would like to address a common narrative that often frames an analysis of the future of legal education. Many inside and outside the academy assert that there is a glut of attorneys, and that the dramatic drop in applications to law schools over the past three years is a market correction for this overabundance. I want to challenge this position."

She continues, "Poor and moderate-income people in the United States desperately need legal services. This need has been exacerbated by the financial crisis and the collapse of the housing market. Cuts in funding for civil legal services and growing economic inequality have further limited equal access to justice. Many who were once middle class have slipped into destitution as a result. Their need for basic legal counsel is great."

She adds, "In 2006, the ABA adopted a resolution urging states 'to provide legal counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low-income persons in those categories of adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody.' This resolution is even more important seven years later, after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression."

She concludes, "The legal academy must graduate attorneys academically prepared and financially able to represent those clients most in need of legal services."

In sum, we have two problems: thousands of law school graduates not being able to find jobs and millions of the poor and middle class not being able to obtain legal representation.  Surely, we can find a solution that brings both groups together.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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