If we woke up tomorrow and found that all Unauthorized Practice of Law statutes (UPLs) had magically disappeared overnight, what would happen? I think the poor and middle class would mostly benefit, while the rich would be unaffected by the change.
But what would law schools do?
This is not the best time to be a law school dean—which is not to say that law schools deserve a bit of sympathy. Desperate to keep the money train rolling, and refusing to stop chasing their tails seeking higher US News rankings, law schools have:
- Lied about their admissions and graduate employment statistics,
- Disgusted even their own faculty,
- Spawned a legion of furious recent graduates for whom there are no jobs, and,
- Attracted the negative attention of the U.S. Senate.
Law schools survive only because of the current licensure system. A three-year degree from an ABA-accredited school (which often means six-figure school loan debt) plus bar exam passage is the only path to licensure in most states. If UPLs (that restrict to licensed attorneys the giving of advice) disappeared, law schools would undergo wrenching changes.
While the top-tier schools would probably go about their business as usual, all other schools would have to adapt, quickly, or die. Instead of dictating to the legal services market what a legal-advice-giver is, and what education that person needs, the market (i.e., reality) would dictate to the law schools.
Only the top-tier schools could maintain the supposedly “scholarly” approach to legal education, with, for example, a year spent on the legal theories behind civil procedure and contracts. Law schools would have to turn their focus toward turning out graduates who would doff their caps and gowns already able to do legal work. A number of different types of programs would evolve quickly, few of which would require three years to complete. These programs would have to appeal to employers who would no longer have to hire JDs with licenses. The cost of tuition would be forced down. Inevitably, some law schools would simply disappear. And given the glut of new lawyers with few job prospects, that wouldn’t be a bad turn of events either.