It’s striking to learn that only 55,760 people applied to law school this past year, while 83,400 people applied to law school in 2008. It’s also thought provoking, and worth contemplating: Who are the roughly 27,600 people who would have applied to law school this year if application rates had remained steady? The latest ABA article on application rates quotes the Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law in saying: “That group of people who weren’t as committed just aren’t applying now.”
Committed to what, exactly? Committed to the three-year, $200,000 path of getting a law degree, I suppose. But the 27,600 who may have contemplated and rejected that path may be committed to something else: The freedom to pursue their goals and actually serve society. As law school gets more expensive and as job prospects diminish, the more law school becomes a path toward a kind of indentured servitude – one where graduates will take and keep ANY job they can get.
I wonder – and I worry – whether the people who are turning away from law school are the ones society most needs to be lawyers: People from low income backgrounds. People who are interested in serving low income communities. People who would like to make change in a world that desperately needs it. People with enough foresight and wisdom to recognize that law school could keep them from their goals.
If that’s the case, then we need lawyers – perhaps 27,600 per year – to consider taking apprentices, to help people become lawyers via an alternate path. We also need states to re-think their rules for bar admission and to revisit the concept of apprenticeships or “reading the law.” Currently, California, Washington, Vermont, and Virginia allow people to become lawyers without going to law school. Apprenticeships will harness an enormous amount of energy that might otherwise be lost on the legal profession – 27,600 megawatts per year, perhaps.