Saturday, May 03, 2008

The Real Class Bias

I have often wondered about the origins of public law schools. I have attempted to do a little reading but other things got in the way.

But think about it. Do you suppose public law schools were started so the cost of legal education would go down and the number of lawyers would increase and the masses could then afford legal services?

There are so many holes in that theory it’s hard to know where to begin. Law is ultimately about property and usually scuffling about it, protecting it, or getting more of it. That is fortunately not all that accurate today but it is hard to believe it was not accurate when public law schools started.

And what is even better for those with enough property to scuffle over than to have the tab for training lawyers who do the actually dirty work paid for by those who, as they say and with no intention to bring Michael Vick into this, have no dog in that fight because they have no property to speak of. Of course, they had jobs but those were and still are for the most part terminable at will. Another example of how “property” is defined by those with power.

I have made no study of this recently (many years ago I did study it for medical education and found a redistribution from low to high) but my feeling is that the net effect of public legal education is still an upward redistribution with tax programs being the ultimate examples. I do no mean simple upward to students but then to those who buy their services.

There is a way out of this. Charge every single student the full cost of their education and then subsidize only on the basis of need. Sure some of the wealthier students will opt for private schools but more of the students in public schools will be those who need the subsidization (which can be done with the same dollars used to subsidize the more affluent students) and the upward redistribution will be lessened.


A Student at UF said...

This is off topic with the recent post but on topic with the blog. Although, all of this article does not apply to law schools (especially considering we have the brighter students from undergrad) some of the same complaints exist about the law school. Professors who only research but can't teach. Is a law school about research or teaching students? I'm not sure I know the answer. Not to mention, how the article talks about a university being a business and not a place to learn. This I know is true because it is obvious the only thing a University can do with any amount of efficiency is take your money. Unfortunately, unlike other types of businesses I can't just decide I'm unhappy with the service and leave and go down the street. The moment that happens with respect to colleges is the moment our higher education takes the next giant leap forward.

Jeff Harrison said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Admiral said...

Dear Professor,

I think you are right to be suspicious of the motivations for propagating public law schools. But the subsidization of law students isn't the real problem -- federal loans crowd out the private market for loans, but the market still exists and would be much, much larger were it not for federal interference. Most law students are probably willing to invest in their law school education to the extent that they can pay it back making ***high salaries***.

And this is the real source of the problem. The fact that people have to be making high salaries. They are artificially high because of the outrageous and redundant barriers to entry. Three years of an ABA accredited law school + Bar exam, namely. We have to take THREE years of law school, where we don't learn what we really need to practice, ostensibly to improve the quality of our services... to protect the public... blah blah blah, it's a huge crock.

Restricting the supply of labor with these license barriers ENSURES that the poor are underserved (how are public defenders going to repay? wouldn't there be amazing public defenders who learn on the job -- why do they HAVE to go to law school? Or pass a bar exam on a wide-ranging set of subjects?!).

The problem isn't the Bar. The problem is the State's unholy alliance with the Bar. Studies I have seen regarding licensing in teaching and medicine show that these requirements *do not improve the quality of the services provided*. What is required is a degree of intrepidity -- and a confrontation with special, entrenched interests that have no concern for the market, only their own pocketbooks as guarded by the State.

[ I hope you are well! ]

The Mouse Who Roars said...

In terms of say public defenders paying back loans, what about LRAP? I don't know, I've just never been perturbed by the cost of attending the best possible institution. Not because I have any money, but just because if something is worth it to you, you find a way to pay for it. The interest isn't bad, and I could never justify economizing on self-improvement. I've attended a couple of expensive institutions, and found them to be incredibly generous with grants, and working to stay on the cutting edge of stuff like LRAP. This does NOT have to do with the pubic/private divide as far as I can tell, but with the expensive/cheap divide. Stuff that is more valuable costs more.

Jeff Harrison said...

Admiral: Thoughtful comments as usual but here is the question that one must ultimately face. Legal education is an investment and the return to that investment must justify the cost of the investment. If subsidization is through private sources only and all barriers dropped, will there be legal services for the less affuent? Remember "need" by the less affuent in this private market world means having enough at stake that the attorney can be paid enough to mean a high enough return on his or her investment.

I do not seen how the current barriers to entry can be the problem. Even with those barriers many people with law degrees cannot generate enough of a return on investment -- even with subsidized loans -- to hang out a shingle and serve the poor.

So completely eliminate the barriers and minimum rate of return to justify a legal education will still be too high to justify serving the people that go unserved.

I guess we could nationalize all of legal services.

Jeff Harrison said...

Answer to undergrad/teaching question. I am not sure a bachelor's degree is overvalued because people getting them are not well educated or because the number of jobs that really require a degree is declining. I do think it is a mistake to go to college only for purpose of getting a higher paying job because that is only a possibility, not a certainty.

I think the idea of a college as a business as an apt one -- especially a law school. Suppose the number of applicants for UF LAW fell off. The institution would continue on because the institution and its existence becomes the end, not the means. This is true of nearly every educational institution, program, institute, etc. They are started in response to a claimed need but then perpetuate themselves well after the need is gone

On research and teaching. Now that is really tough. Some good researchers are not so good in the classroom and some good teachers hardly write. My own preference is for the brightest and most well-read teacher I can get. I do not care about the jokes, war stories, stunts, “giving good notes” or efforts to demonstate how much he or she cares. If I have the case book and the teacher is smart – really smart – I got everything I need to learn. I definitely do not want a teacher who treats me like a high school student and hands out a concise outline of a lecture or uses power point to make obvious points. As I student could learn everything in the casebook and in the hornbooks. What I want from the teacher goes beyond that. Students who are aggressive about learning will do fine as long as the professor is thinking and working at the highest levels.