Law School Debt and Employment Conundrum — Non-Standard Responses

Lots of people (if you know any non-lawyers who read the New York Times) are going to be asking you about the Times article today, Is Law School A Losing Game?.

The main points in the article are the high amount of debt, the lack of jobs, and the complicity of the ABA and law schools in statistics that mislead potential law students as to their likely job prospects. It is not a pretty picture.

However, there is a different take.  The current business structure of the profession makes it almost impossible for young lawyers to get into roles in which they can earn money while helping the access to justice crisis.  We graduate with no idea how to find and handle real clients, manage an office, or establish a business.

But there are ideas as to how this could change.  (And remember, studies have shown that most poor people use the market, not legal aid, for the help they need.)

Professor Luz Herrera,  at Thomas Jefferson School of Law), has a wonderful paper in Volume 43 in the Loyola of Los Angeles Law Review.  It is called Rethinking Private Attorney Involvement Through a ‘Low Bono’ Lens.

Key sentences from the Abstract:

“The paradigm shift advocated in this Article does not intend to discredit the importance of federal government subsidies of legal aid to the poor. Such subsidies are critical to preserving justice for that population. However, it does seek to push the legal services community into a more diverse and inclusive discussion that incorporates the non-poor client community that needs affordable legal services and the attorneys who serve them. Both constituencies are critical political players in a national discourse on legal service delivery. A mixed-model legal services delivery program must give these groups a stake in order to successfully advance an agenda that also benefits the poor. The development of such an agenda requires greater focus on Main Street lawyers, reduced-fee models, client preferences, and the factors that drive the cost of legal services.”

Professor Herrera beleives that judicature and co-payments are appropriate.  More on Luz Herrera at ABA Journal’s Legal Rebels.

Another idea is that of law school incubators, in which law schools would set up associated middle income offices in which law students and recent graduates would get the experience, and be supported by the infrastructure needed, to make the transition to self-supporting middle income practice.  See this equally great article by Harvard’s Jeanne Charn, LEGAL SERVICES FOR ALL: IS THE PROFESSION READY? which talks both about an enhanced role for small and solo practitioners, and the role of legal aid offices in incubating such efforts.

“Also, salaried legal aid offices, with state-of-the-art case
management and document assembly programs, strong service
protocols, and resources to support high-quality practice might also
function as lawyer incubators.  That is, these legal aid offices can
launch trained and competent solo and small-firm practitioners to
serve low- and middle-income clients at affordable market rates or
on a fully or partially subsidized basis.”

The concept of law schools assisting the transition to practice in low income communities was promoted by the Law School Consortium Project, which is now “in a state of rest.”  However, as described in the above link: “Local and regional LSCP initiatives continue to work together on an ad-hoc basis, furthering the mission and goals of LSCP and networking to increase access to justice.”  Resources for such work are listed here.  Prior member law schools are here.  A contact to answer questions is here.

Maybe a way should be found to resuscitate national organizing and support on this issue.

Researching online for this post, look what I found from the University of Missouri, Kansas City, Law School:  UMKC School of Law launches Solo and Small Firm Incubator.

“Developed with assistance from The Missouri Bar Association and the Kansas City Metropolitan Bar Association’s Solo Practitioner/Small Firms committee, the Incubator will assist recent graduates entering solo and small firm practices. It will provide affordable office space for about nine tenants, as well as practice management assistance and mentoring so that graduates can gain support in launching their own practices, while also providing pro bono or affordable legal services to the underserved Troost area corridor.”

I hope someone is doing a good evaluation to help assess and replicate the idea (assuming it works).


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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