While his op-ed in the New York Times didn’t go very well, Case Western Reserve Law School Dean Lawrence Mitchell wasn’t to be denied. Maybe a bit of live explanation would help? So Bloomberg Law’s Lee Pacchia interviewed the good dean.
While there is so much worthy of discussion packed into those incredibly monotonous 15 minutes of your life lost, the foremost takeaway is the good dean’s assertion that one of the core problems perceived by lesser minds may not, in fact, be real.
Paul Carron at TaxProf noted:
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects there will be 74,000 new lawyer jobs this decade, while American law schools will produce more than 400,000 graduates.
Yet the good dean says “It’s not clear to me there’s an oversupply problem at all.”
With so many legal needs of the poor going unmet, “finding different paths for people who truly want to be lawyers opens up all sorts of possibilities” for law graduates to find jobs, he maintains.
Mitchell is absolutely right. There is substantial unmet need in the United States. And with that assertion, Dean Lawrence Mitchell announced that he would be donating his deanly salary, his assets and all his worldly possessions to lawyers filling that unmet need. Nah. Only kidding.
The unmet need is real, and it’s hardly a joke. It’s the genesis of such futurist brainstorms as DIY lawyering and the embrace of less-than-competent representation. Better bad legal help than nothing, some say. Outside-the-box thinking has been a boon to the growth of ineffective counsel. Dean Mitchell argues that this need can be filled by the 326,000 new lawyers with nothing but time on their hands.
To some extent, he’s correct. Sure, he discounts the lack of competency of fresh-from-law-school lawyers, but academics frequently overestimate the value of the education they impart to their indebted charges. Sure, he has no empirical basis to claim a symmetry between the unmet need and the numbers of graduates law schools are cranking out. Maybe the number is great than the need. Maybe less. We only know both exist, and whether they match up in any way remains a mystery.
But as Lee Pacchia put it, “Costco doesn’t take Karma Points, anymore?”
We tend to look at new lawyers and see two discrete costs, the amount they paid to law schools, such as Case Western Reserve, for their legal education, and the amount they would have made it they spent three years working instead of going to law school. Dean Mitchell would chalk up these costs to a donation for the poor, as filling this unmet need for legal representation that would subsume the extra warm bodies doesn’t offer much of a way to compensate for the tuition bill or the lost earnings.
Yet, there remains one additional factor that nobody seems willing to consider. Lawyers, even those who have banked some serious karma points by doing good for society, need to eat. Some have children, and they get hungry every day. The kids need shoes. They need iPhones too, but shoes come first. And a coat. It’s winter, and it’s cold outside. Don’t they get a coat?
In the legal Utopia where no oversupply of lawyers exists, Dean Mitchell would be king. But the fact remains that Costco doesn’t take karma points. Neither does the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company. Not even Amazon. It’s fine to take note of the demand for legal representation, but unless there is a way to pay for that demand, the supply side goes hungry.
At An Associate’s Mind, Keith Lee is less forgiving than I am:
I really don’t even know where to start. I fall on the optimistic end of the spectrum when looking at the law school disaster and I can’t even begin to understand or justify Dean Mitchell’s statement. Flat out, full stop, there is an oversupply of lawyers. To even begin to claim otherwise, especially when you’re a law school dean with intimate knowledge of the industry, is lying.While I understand his angst, I’m constrained to disagree. I doubt Dean Mitchell is lying. It’s not an unreasonable conclusion, given that it’s fair to ascribe a certain degree of intelligence to a law school dean, and given that intelligence, he must surely know that his assertion is absurd.
Not being disingenuous, or mistaken, or having a difference of opinion. L-Y-I-N-G.
But Keith doesn’t take into account the myopia of legal academia, allowing even a smart guy like Dean Mitchell to fix his laser-like focus on a narrow issue to the exclusion of context. There is need. There are lawyers. Bingo, problem solved. Keith sees things through the eyes of an effective lawyer, making it impossible to ignore the fact that Dean Mitchell’s assertion is absurd, leaving no option by to conclude he’s a liar.
For a while now, I’ve been harping on the idea that none of these problems are likely to be well resolved if legal academia is left to its own devices. Law school exists only to supply the next generation of lawyers, who exist only to serve our clients. Yet, there remains a divide that few care to notice. Lawprofs want to handle their issues without outside interference, which is how we got into this mess in the first place.
It may be because they don’t care for the “toxic tone” of trench lawyers or that we won’t be sufficiently concerned with their salary, tenure, scholarship or workload issues. After all, as Dean Mitchell notes, lawprofs could make oodles of money if they were working the libraries of Biglaw, though I have some doubts as to their making partner given their rainmaking skills. Seven and out, Dean.
And to be fair to the lawprofs, there aren’t too many lawyers in the trenches who give enough of a damn to care about any of this. Aside from a handful of Biglaw guys who get paychecks and adore being on panels with scholars, trench lawyers are too busy representing clients or, if not, issuing press releases. And the one or two who do care and take the time to stay atop the problem don’t get asked to share the microphone.
Instead, we get to watch Lee Pacchia interview Dean Lawrence Mitchell and wonder why we bother trying, and what we possibly hope to gain by making enemies of lawprofs at every turn. And yet we persist.