Bar News - April 19, 2013
President’s Perspective: Legal Education ‘Crisis’ Offers Opportunity
By: Larry Vogelman
As President of the New Hampshire Bar Association, I was invited to a conference in Indianapolis on April 24 that was put on by the ABA Task Force on the Future of Legal Education.
The charge of the task force is to "examine problems, like falling enrollment, rising tuition, student debt, and difficult employment prospects, as well as how law school accreditation, bar admissions, and university practices effect all of these." Other than the members of the task force, only 22 of us were invited and in attendance.
Among those participating were nine law professors (including UNH Professor Sophie Sparrow), three law school deans, the president-elect of the ABA, a university president, a vice chancellor of a university system, the president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, the chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court, and others. I was the only bar president. The task force is chaired by Randall T. Shepard, former chief justice of Indiana.
Many of you have seen articles in national newspapers, like The New York Times, discussing these issues. Many, including many of the conference attendees and task force members, believe there is a crisis in legal education in the United States today. I believe that what is perceived as a crisis is, in reality, more of an opportunity.
One of the perceptions discussed was that there are too many lawyers and too few "jobs." I shared with my other conference members my belief that, in reality, there are not enough lawyers, but there are too many looking to fill corporate and big firm jobs.
As we all know, our profession has fallen well short of providing legal assistance and access to our justice system for the poor and middle class. What we need, therefore, is not more corporate or big firm jobs, but creative ways to team up law graduates with members of the community who are in need of their services. My point of view seemed to resonate with a majority of the other attendees.
Many other ideas were shared over the course of the day. Should our profession mirror the medical profession and turn out trained professionals – with less-than-three-year law degrees – who can provide legal services to citizens who need them? Some of the areas of the law that were mentioned were writing wills, residential closings, and uncontested divorces.
Obviously, proposals such as this are very controversial, particularly in a state like New Hampshire, where solo practitioners and small firms depend on being able to provide a broad range of legal services. The reality, however, is that in many instances, the public cannot afford us and end up representing themselves.
Other topics raised at the conference included the salaries and course loads of law professors. High salaries and relatively small teaching loads have led to high tuition and burdensome debt for law graduates. Also discussed was whether the ABA accreditation process is out of step with the times and leads to unnecessarily high tuitions. One example given was the library requirements needed for law school accreditation. Does it make sense in 2013 to require a law school library to have a certain number of work stations in ratio to the student body? Or, in reality, is computer access more important?
The task force is about to put the figurative "pen to paper." I hope they will take this opportunity to recommend changes in legal education that will not only be good for our profession, legal institutions and students, but also increase overall access to justice.
|Lawrence A. Vogelman
Larry Vogelman is the 2012-13 president of the New Hampshire Bar Association and practices with the law firm of Nixon, Vogelman, Barry, Slawsky & Simoneau in Manchester.