Thursday, June 30, 2016
Most readers of MoJ are aware, I trust, that law schools have encountered a bit of rough sledding over the past several years. The New York Times recently published (yet another) feature on law school troubles, this time focusing on Valparaiso. The story included -- along with some questionable assertions -- profiles of struggling law grads that warrant serious reflection.
One other aspect of the story that cannot go unexplored is the headline -- "An expensive law degree and no place to use it." The suggestion that law degrees are "expensive" relative to the earning power they bring is a different story that I'll leave for the economists to sort out, though I agree that law schools need to be -- and are being -- more cognizant of cost than they were in the past. I'm more interested in the charge that many law grads have "no place to use" their degrees.
If, as the article asserts, the market for new lawyers is "saturated" -- a proposition that is highly contingent on geography, even when it comes to traditional JD jobs -- we need to think about the assumptions we make as to who can best utilize a legal education and how. What value do we bring, and to whom? For Catholic law schools, this is not just a matter of responding to market pressure, but of living out our mission. As John Paul II reminded Catholic intellectuals (and as Cardinal George later reminded Catholic university professors):
You too are solidly involved in a prophetical task of forming sensitive consciences capable of saying no to death, to hatred, to violence, to terror, to error, to evil, to degradation, but saying yes to the good, to the beautiful, to truth, to justice, to responsibility, to life, to peace, to love. You must take on your responsibility consciously. Your contribution in this field is a conspicuous and precious one. The young who have contact with you . . . let all these be aided by you to enter sagely and rationally into a vision of life in human society which promotes the common good of all.
Or as John Paul II explained in Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Catholic university “assists each of its members in achieving wholeness as human persons.”
This warrants a much larger conversation, but for purposes of a blog post, I'll emphasize three implications:
1) The mission of Catholic legal education, and the strength of the particular law school communities that can be formed by that mission, position Catholic law schools to prepare students to thrive in the relationships that will distinguish the lawyers who achieve professional success in an increasingly commodified and routinized market for legal services.
2) Catholic law schools that integrate the analytical rigor of common law training with insights from Catholic social teaching can equip students -- especially international students -- for positions of influence that require more nuance than a categorical embrace of unfettered capitalism or socialism; and
3) Access to justice should be a rallying cry that finds fertile ground among the stakeholders of Catholic law schools, drawing support for scholarships and post-graduate fellowships aimed at addressing the need for lawyers among the poor and middle class, especially in small towns and rural areas across the country. To the extent that the market for lawyers has been "saturated" in some areas of the country, that's because the business model does not function in a way that permits legal needs to be met. Catholic law schools should be part of the solution.
In an increasingly regulated world that cries out for creative problem solving, there should always be a "place to use" a law degree in a way that provides a livelihood and advances the common good, and Catholic law schools should be leading the way forward.