The following is a follow-up from “TexJudge,” the former Texas Court of Criminal Appeals judge who wrote the highly debated post, “Are Law Schools Screwing Students?”
I appreciate the comments from all those who responded to my recent article concerning law school tuition. My figures for 1977 lawyer salaries were based on starting pay and, if anything, I may have erred on the high side. I do recall that a large county in Texas at that time was paying first-year assistant DAs around $25K.
One reader does make a very good point that law school tuition inflation may be tied to ever-increasing amounts of federally provided student loans. This is a classic case of moral hazard: People will consume or use more of a product or service if someone else is paying the bill regardless of whether or not the service or product is good for the consumer or society in the short or long term. More loans for law students means more law students and more law schools. The recent takeover of student loans by the federal government (part of the health care bill) will likely make it worse both on the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Can the ABA prevent new law schools from opening? No, but it can certainly make the accreditation process more difficult. Although it will never happen, the folks now in charge of student loans could decide we do not need, say, another 30,000 new lawyers every year and only authorize, say, 15,000 loans per year for law students. The same restrictions should be applied to undergraduate students who want to major in such “useful” pursuits as 14th century French poetry and womens’ studies—ones that are unlikely to lead to jobs that pay enough to enable repayment of the loans.
It should be noted that California has more lawyers than Japan and France combined.
By the way, I do consider myself to be a Bitter Judge. Why? For one thing, I am a judge in the South, which means there is no way I could ever be on the Supreme Court. In the last 90 years, only one judge from Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Georgia combined (Justice Tom Clark, Texas, nominated by Lyndon Johnson over 40 years ago) has served on our nation’s highest court. Has the South been redlined? Show me the evidence that lawyers who grew up within 300 miles of New York City or went to Ivy League law schools are more qualified than those who are from Houston, Dallas, Atlanta, Miami or Charlotte and attended excellent law schools like Texas or Duke. Yes, we like NASCAR and football and Law Firm 10, but we don’t put people into high office like Eliot Spitzer or allow unions to bankrupt our states like New York, New Jersey and California. Some of us may be rednecks, but we are not that dumb.
As a final point, BigLaw lawyers are no better in court than those who did not go to Ivy League schools or work in less-prestigious firms. If anything, juries are often turned off by BigLaw lawyers who may be technically brilliant and great at document review but lack the people skills needed to connect with the average juror.
Check out other Bitter Exclusives.