The legal job market is bad—very bad. That, at least, seems to be beyond dispute. Among lots of calls for change, here’s a (maybe somewhat) realistic one: make the study of law a bachelor’s degree rather than a graduate degree.
Before you get your Juris Doctor undies all in a bunch, think about it. Did you really need seven (or more) years of education to learn enough to become a lawyer? Even if you don’t think law school is a scam, the fact remains that, at best, there are about half as many new real* law jobs each year as there are new JDs. Student debt loads (which are not dischargeable in bankruptcy) run well into six figures for the majority of new JDs. This just can’t continue. In comparison, bachelor’s degree programs, particularly at public universities, are affordable.
First, let’s talk about academics. It’s also beyond dispute that law school doesn’t teach you the skills you need to practice law. So what does it teach you? Lots of “scholarly” skills, to be sure, like how to decipher appellate decisions, work on an appellate brief, and similar purportedly brain-expanding efforts.
But, even if we assume, arguendo**, that it’s good to have that “scholarly” experience in order to learn to “think like a lawyer,” does one really need to already have a bachelor’s degree (in, well, anything at all, nobody cares) before taking those classes and learning those skills? And should it take three years? We’ve all heard the, “third year, they bore you to death” line—and it’s true.
It’s not difficult to imagine a bachelor’s degree in law program that would require in four years both the traditional law school classes that have broad value as well as classes in writing, negotiation, logic, speech, marketing, and management, the sum of which would create law grads with useful lawyering skills as well as able to survive as business people. Law students could be required to participate in clinics doing real legal work. A year-long post-graduate apprenticeship program could tie things up neatly.
This would reduce debt loads for new lawyers to such an extent that it would put downward pressure on fees. That would make more lawyers available to people who need them but currently can’t afford them. It would also significantly reduce the number of casualties in the war on despair that so many J.D.’s find themselves fighting.
*A position with no set end-date and that requires a J.D.
**See? Scholarly education! Whee!