Thursday, July 16, 2015
Professor Benjamin Barton (Tennessee) has a new book out called Glass Half Full: The Decline and Rebirth of the Legal Profession (Oxford U. Press - go here for the publisher's summary) as well as an editorial in the Chronicle of Higher Ed that offers a nice overview. After identifying the usual suspects and circumstances that have led the legal profession (and law schools) to the present "crisis," Professor Barton says that "after some rough sledding," (including some law school staffing shake-ups) the public, the profession, and even the law school professoriate will be better off in his opinion.
The public will benefit via technology and web offerings that over time will get better and thereby provide the public with access to good quality legal help for routine matters at a much more reasonable (i.e. affordable) cost. The profession will go through a period of "wretched " change but will eventually benefit from less competition between lawyers due to smaller law school graduating classes. As for law schools, Professor Barton predicts that the pressure to attract students will mean some will focus less on USNWR rankings and more on providing the kind of educational experience that actually prepares students for practice. Related to this, he predicts some schools will forsake the Ivy League model and instead will encourage faculty to focus on quality teaching and practical scholarship. As for me, I'm still skeptical about the latter because chasing prestige is so deeply embedded in legal education - polls of prospective law students continue to show that they care most about a law school's ranking when it comes to deciding where to enroll - but hey, maybe Professor Barton will turn out to be right. Despite my skepticism, I hope he is right.