Welcome to the Uncle Sam School of Law

Harvard University recently co-hosted a Department of Education event with over 100 of the nation's law school administrators in attendance, to discuss how law schools must be more open and equal, not only in admissions criteria, but in the nature of how law is perceived and applied.

There are over 200 ABA (American Bar Association) law schools in the nation, so about half of the schools were in attendance.  They all tended to be the law schools that are especially left of center politically (and eager to follow Yale and Harvard), and otherwise fully aligned with the federal government's agenda concerning new law school ranking criteria and admissions: it promotes a more liberal interpretation of applicant qualifications and encourages students to go into government careers.  This is a subject that has generated much debate and opinion (including mine), as it raises a number of issues in higher education.

But the key theme and take-away from this particular event that Harvard and Yale hosted made it clear where all the sudden posturing over equity is coming from concerning law schools: the U.S. Government.  And the law schools are quickly and eagerly complying with the current administration's ideology out of self-interest and, to some extent, institutional survival.

What was especially fascinating about this get-together by federal government and law school deans was the Department of Education's mission to make law schools "share data" on all student applicants, in an effort to create an even, homogenous applicant pool that is not segmented by test scores, grades, essay strength or experience but is filtered by race, ethnicity, wealth, and legacy status.

To some extent, I share the sentiment that law schools are not attracting a wide pool of applicants, and they have a limited set of criteria to determine applicant quality, and to predict their success.  Many fine lawyers have skills and productive behaviors that are not always captured by test scores and class grades.  What is missing on this overall new government initiative, however, is structural, institutional changes that can be made, in order to actually improve the economics of law school graduates — namely, time, cost, and debt.  (As Ronald Reagan said, government doesn't solve problems; it merely rearranges them.)

Out of all the grandstanding and idealism that poured forth from the Harvard and Yale event, not one word was mentioned about the law schools themselves as direct causes of student economic burdens.  Not one dean stood up and brought to everyone's attention the fact that the rest of the world efficiently trains its lawyers as undergraduates, and often in three years.  Britain, Europe, Mexico, Australia, South Africa, and most of Asia and the Middle East all operate an undergraduate (LL.B) law degree program.  Israel for example, hosts an outstanding 3.5-year dual-language law degree (English and Hebrew) that also qualifies students to take the N.Y. Bar exam, while also qualifying them to enter practice in many foreign jurisdictions.  It cuts time and cost in half, while doubling one's legal qualification in two or more geographic domains and languages.

Meanwhile, back in the U.S., it takes twice the time and twice the cost to get through law school (four years of undergrad plus three years of a graduate school).  Do Yale, Harvard, and all the other 200 law schools care?  Not only do they not care, but they are fighting to maintain the status quo: rather than make law school more efficient, and saving underprivileged students years of time and six figures of additional debt, they are instead simply relaxing entry standards, and creating a public sector legal mill in order to keep all the law schools busy and professors employed; maintain tuition prices, and feed the federal and state governments with thousands of eager, ideologically indoctrinated young adults fed into a runaway government administrative bureaucracy, guided directly by government standards, government rules, government priorities, and government loyalty.  It's truly Uncle Sam, Esq.

Our nation's elite law schools otherwise want to stay elite, and equity is the new elitism. Government administrative bureaucracy is the new symbol of law school prestige, because government will accommodate the redefinition of law in personalized terms, and by personal, rather than objective values.  When that happens, there is no law, and when there is no law, the current political left can realize its fantasy of replacing law with absolute control.

Matthew G. Andersson is the author of the upcoming book Legally Blind, concerning ideological effects on law, and is the author of What They Don't Teach You at Harvard Law School.  He has testified to the U.S. Senate, and the Connecticut General Assembly concerning higher education.  He is a graduate of the University of Chicago.

Image via Pixnio.

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