February 18, 2013
Rutgers Law Dean Explains Nonprofit Law Firms’ Place in Addressing Problems in Legal Profession and Law Market
John J. Farmer, Jr., Dean of the Rutgers School of Law—Newark, has written an opinion editorial in the New York Times that suggests one way to help address several problems in the legal profession and market for legal services. The familiar problems that he cites include the weak job market for recent law school graduates, the high cost of legal education, and unmet needs for legal services by the middle class, many of whom are currently priced out of the market. Notes Farmer, “Legal education has not so much failed the profession as mirrored it,” by training students for a profession that offers services that are unaffordable to the masses “and at a cost that perpetuates the problem.” So what should we do, according to Farmer?
Let's scrap this system. We need, at its entry level, the equivalent of a medical residency. Law school graduates would practice for two years or so, under experienced supervision, at reduced hourly rates; repaying their debts could be suspended, as it is for medical residents.
Farmer envisions the hiring of recent law school graduates by law firms at lower compensation rates in the residency period, during which recent graduates gain valuable experience and clients benefit from lower fees. He also suggests a role for law schools through the use of nonprofit law firms/clinics:
Schools are already experimenting: Mine is about to start a postgraduate, nonprofit law clinic/firm staffed by recent graduates, under supervision, to represent lower-middle-class clients.
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The concept of using a nonprofit to address the need for access to legal services and for graduates to have additional training is a wonderful one. However, due to the limitation on granting 501(c)(3) status to law firms serving the poor and underserved, will such nonprofit law firms always need to be affiliated with an existing nonprofit? Arizona State is housing its new nonprofit law firm within the Alumni Association. Using an alternative model, the UC Hastings organization, Lawyers for America, is a 501(c)(3) but is providing training and coordinating placements to existing organizations, as I understand it. Thus it is removed from the role of providing services. This is a good model but may limit impact for those areas in which organizations that can provide placements may not exist.
I would appreciate any insights readers might have.
Posted by: Joan Harrington | Mar 10, 2013 6:38:50 PM