Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Should a Law Degree Be a Prerequisite To Being a Lawyer?


Eliminate or minimize sharply law schools altogether as a necessary step to being an accredited lawyer and make passing the bar exams or whatever competency tests any jurisdiction lays down the sole condition of accreditation. Let applicants make their own ways to these tests whether by way of law schools, home schooling/self study, on line schools or whatever. What do law schools teach in the way of professional preparedness: ethics, black letter law competency in the usual areas, how to read cases and statutes, write and reason like a lawyer. Why should law schools have any monopoly on that and who's to say other modes of acquiring such knowledge and such skills can't do as good a job or better? If a counter argument to this proposal is "What about other professions, say doctors?", my answer is I don't know about them but I know something about the legal profession.


basman, intriguing proposal. It wouldn't work for medicine, though. I have sat medical professional examinations in two countries, the USA and Australia, and I have yet to encounter a test that I would trust to certify competency in the full range of situations required. I suppose there's no absolute reason that you couldn't permit people to "test out" of the first two, preclinical years of med school, but after that medical education is all on-the-job training, essentially an apprenticeship, and it is hard to imagine an alternative, medically ethical pathway to acquiring the practical skills that such training instills.


aaronw I take completely your point about the inapplicability of my mdoest proposal to medicine. But law school--save for mooting and courses and programs geared to practical experience, like a supervised stint in a law clinic or some such--doesn't do so much so uniquely that, in my view, alternatives to it can't accomplish. In Canada, in every province, somewhere along the way, a prospective lawyer must article--apprentice--for 6 months to a year. Plenty of full on experience there. When I mention my proposal to my lawyer friends, they look at me like I'm crazed. But when I think how much law school costs, how those expenses entrench class differences as they are so prohibitively expensive for so many and how law schools vying for academic respectability claim they are providing an education in a particular discipline as much as, or more than, they are professional training schools, I still await an argument that puts my proposal decisively in its place.

one p.s.: When you say " ... suppose there's no absolute reason that you couldn't permit people to "test out" of the first two, preclinical years of med school... " you're getting into the space my proposal occupies.


Our Canadian Bar Exams are a true test of a jurisdiction's black letter law in major areas. When I did them it was a 6 month program moving from one subject to the next, replete with big, weighty tomes and a stiff exam for each segment studied. After that I had to do a year's articling, and that was all after the traditional 3 years of law school. But their whys and wherefores as such are not really my point--which is alternatives to traditional (oppressive) law school strangle hold on certification. The possibilities for designing the appropriate lead up to finally vouching professional competence are wide open and really interesting in their own right.


That's much better than what we have in the US, Basman. That said, it doesn't sound as though many people could successfully complete such an exam without some type of specialized formal education (i.e., law school). But I have always believed that the first year of US-style law school is sufficient to prepare one to be a legal apprentice. (Associates in large law firms are nothing more than absurdly well-paid apprentices.) On the other hand, I immensely enjoyed my second and third years of law school. In focusing on whether a law school prepares a person to practice law or ensures employment as a lawyer, we are overlooking the intrinsic value of a legal education, and the contributions to the administration of justice. Taking a seminar in critical legal theory or writing a law review article may not have done anything to make me a better lawyer, but those experiences were personally enriching and enabled me, I would like to think, to make some contribution to legal scholarship.


Your law school experience was different than mine. First term semester, 300 of us sacredy cats wondered whether we’d flunk—and all of us were good students. After first semester exams, and seeing we knew we could pass, apart from some pockets of genuine interest—jurisprudence, administration of criminal justice, joint essay on equality before law in lieu of a course and civil liberties—each semester was for me at least an increasingly frustrating and irritating jumping over hurdles to write papers, sit exams, to get past graduation. (I wrote one paper that got published in a legal journal when I went back for an LLM. It was on Continuing Discovery under Ontario procedures. I never finished my LLM—I lost the motivation to write my thesis after I finished my course work.)

But apart from these pleasant/unpleasant reminiscences I emphatically maintain my point that law school—for however some may have found/find it intellectually enriching--need not be the exclusive means whereby an aspirant can equip him/herself to take whatever battery of tests may be in order, together with articling/apprenticeship—in England called student pupilage— to ensure presumptive legal competency.

Disestablishing JDs as a necessary step towards licensing lawyers, as I before noted, amongst other things, breaks the self sustaining monopoly law schools hold, breaks the ongoing class differences that facilitate, by and large, who can afford to go, allows people to gain proficiency without incurring the near to prohibitive costs, harnesses the internet in allowing people flexibility in how they advance in their own fashioned legal education and in opening up a host of innovative means catering to those who would do that fashioning.

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