As Colorado Law Professor Paul Campos has observed, it has rapidly become a cliche that law schools are in crisis. They charge too much, and they don’t prove adequate training or job placement in return. As a result, they are losing enrollees quickly, which means that a number of them may have to start cutting back or shutting down in the foreseeable future.
And, rather than confront the problems, most legal academics have shrugged and talked about how the problem is systemic, and therefore likely insoluble.
Of course, there are solutions out there. They just require political will (itself a very scarce resource). Take one that’s relevant to this blog, sitting there, right under our noses, like a $100 bill no one will pick up off the street. [http://www.litigationandtrial.com/2012/12/articles/the-business-of-law/if-it-was-easy/.]
So here’s a modest proposal for law schools not in the T14. [http://lawschool.about.com/od/lawschoolprofiles/tp/T14.htm] Start a legal aid clinic, or retool your current clinic. Hire three to four disaffected class-action lawyers. Now, focus the clinic’s work entirely on class actions, a nice diversified portfolio of mortgage work, civil rights work, consumer work, and maybe even the occasional securities case. Don’t be afraid to object to outrageous fees in other cases. [http://www.pointoflaw.com/archives/2012/12/stop-complaining-about-the-legal-job-market.php.]
Now, here’s the extra bit no one seems to have considered. Give any student willing to commit three years to a full-credit Clinic course a full ride. How do you afford this? Make actual fee requests. Underbid the 33% contingency, but you don’t have to do so by much. The fees go to funding these scholarships, and then to reducing tuition for the remainder of the students.
Many of the costs of prosecuting a class action involve manpower. You need people to review documents, to take depositions, to research legal theories, to hunt down clients, and to appear at arguments. All of these are important legal skills, some of which are not currently taught. A clinic like this would teach them.
(Even the other large cost–expert fees–can be reduced in a university setting. Many experts are academics. Give those "experts" willing to be on-call for the clinic a break on other administrative duties.)
Sure, it would take a few years for the clinic to become "profitable" (read, sustainable), but a law school concerned with its own sustainability should be able to make the investment. This is a top-of-the-head idea, so there are likely many, many flaws I haven’t worked out. But if class actions are really about promoting the public good (as many academics claim), and if plaintiffs’ lawyers are motivated by more than just money (as Morris Ratner has argued), and if law schools really exist to provide practical legal training to new lawyers, then this proposal should be an easy, easy sell.