ABA Journal


President's Message

Legal Access Job Corps will place law grads in areas with unmet legal needs

Oct 1, 2013, 10:00 am CDT


I truly commend Mr. Silkenat for touting these programs and realizing the extent of the problem.  For too long, I think, the problem has been pushed under the rug, so it’s great to see someone from the ABA actually recognize the problem and want to do something about it. I also commend the law schools who have taken an innovative approach and realize the importance of being willing to change. Kudos to all of them.

That being said, after perusing the mentioned website, it seems that each mentioned program handles only about 10-15 recent grads, at a time when 20,000 grads per year can’t find legal work.  This should be a huge indication that our economy simply cannot handle the number of lawyers we are producing, whether we wish to see this or not.  The emphasis on every program seems to be to develop solo practitioners.  The assumption upon which these programs seems to be based is that the average consumer values legal services and simply cannot afford them at the current rate.  The belief is that if legal services were provided at lower costs, more people would avail themselves of such services.  But what if the assumption upon which these programs are based is wrong?  How does that bode for these programs and especially for the graduates who invest yet more years of their lives learning skills in a field in which they will not, when all is said and done, be able to support themselves?

The assumption that people will pay for legal services if they were cheaper needs to be challenged.  I work as a mediator and just in my jurisdiction alone, the demand for legal services on Main Street has been reduced by about 80%, in the last 5 years due to technological innovations in the legal field and services such as mediation that are reducing the need for people to fight it out in court.  Notice I didn’t say demand has been reduced due to the high cost to provide services - actually, right now in my jurisdiction, as can be expected when there are numerous attorneys looking for work, prices for legal services have dropped, leaving recent graduates in the horrible predicament of being unable to pay back the loans they took out to enter the legal field - something that doesn’t look like it will be changing anytime soon in the near future.  Simply put, there is less demand for legal services provided by ATTORNEYS because other, more appealing alternatives exist. 

The ‘potential legal clients’ I meet everyday - those who just five years ago would have wanted to hire an attorney to handle the cases I routinely handle - do not want to go to court and have no desire to hire an attorney, be it for $50 or $300.  The problem I see with the programs above is that an emphasis on creating solo practitioners only works if there is the need and the graduates are learning skills in a field in which they will be able to support themselves in the future.  No one has challenged that assumption, because we have assumed that legal services will always be needed and that the only issue that needed to be confronted was reducing the price.

Unfortunately for the 20,000 attorneys who are unable to find work in the legal field each year, the average consumer is deciding that they need attorneys less, whether that be because they can use technology to reduce the need for attorneys or because they can use other means to solve their legal issues, such as mediation.  I would suggest, in addition to these programs supporting traditional means for recent graduates to support themselves, such as through developing solo practices, that other, alternative methods for supporting the graduates be developed.  If more and more people are using other methods to resolve their legal disputes, shouldn’t developing those methods be encouraged amongst new graduates? 

Responding to the general public’s reduced need for legal services by simply saying that more legal graduates need to be trained as entrepreneurs without reducing the supply that is causing the overproduction, without reducing the cost to get a legal education, or without taking into consideration ongoing trends is like believing, at the early 20th century, that if horse and buggy makers simply became more adept at building better buggies, the horse and buggy business would still flourish.  The main difference is that the consequences are much more severe: 20,000 graduates who invested heavily in their educations each year are left without jobs and the legal field will continue to be seen as predatory, which does not bode well for the future of the field at all.

By More is Needed on 2013 10 07, 3:34 pm CDT

I agree with More is Needed. From the perspective of a recent graduate who also focused on ADR in law school and having two judicial internships on my back as well as 7 years of legal experience, more is definitely needed. I can’t find a job and have been applying to legal and non-legal positions.

One thing that needs to be more transparent are the average student loan debt. I’ve found many articles citing between $100,000-$200,000. This is not the case, I as well as many of my recent graduate colleagues have student loan debt in the $350,000-$400,000 range. This fact exacerbates the issue of pay for jobs. Right now, I am told based on my level of experience, I can only acquire $18 an hour maximum, if such job is available and I qualify for it.  It makes law school pointless in terms of money; I was paid $25 an hour as a legal secretary seven years ago prior to law school.

The rural attorney program is a great idea and I am intrigued by it, however, more is definitely needed in this area. For example, I looked at the requirements of the rural attorney program in South Dakota. One was to remain 5 years, it should require one year as a probationary period for both the attorney and the state to see if it works. Second, if the attorney is barred in another state, regardless of reciprocity, the attorney should be waived into South Dakota’s bar if they want attorneys to come from elsewhere to encourage such. And, third, I believe there needs to be more monetary incentive regarding student debt and not through the federal Student Loan Forgiveness Program or the Public Interest Loan Forgiveness Program, those programs are great, but regarding private student loan debt. Private student loan debt is a monster because there are no regulations except transparency and bankruptcy rules for these loan giants. The private student loan sector refuse to work with individuals unless they are more than 30 days past due. Wouldn’t they want some money versus none?  You would think so but it is not the case unless you are 30 days past due. A program like the federal loan forgiveness program applied to private student loans would be great. If not, then those +20,000 new attorneys are not likely to go rural because despite income based payments when student loan payments will likely be more than what is allocated from the rural program (and all “jobs” in urban settings at $10-$20 an hour which is annually lower than the level of poverty).

By More is Defiinitely Needed on 2013 10 12, 7:48 pm CDT

Good to see such thoughtful comments here.  Both “More” commenters are spot on.

By q on 2013 10 18, 4:24 pm CDT

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