Are Law Schools and Bar Exams Necessary?

I’m all for democratization of knowledge and seeing fewer barriers to entry for business, but I found this op-ed by Clifford Winston totally off-base. Winston argues that law schools and bar exams are unnecessary and should be done away with:

What if the barriers to entry were simply done away with?

Legal costs would be reduced because non-lawyers, who have not had to make a costly investment in a three-year legal education, would compete with lawyers, who in many states are the only options for basic services like drafting wills. Because they will have incurred much lower costs to enter the field — like taking an online course or attending a vocational school — and can operate as solo practitioners with minimal overhead, these non-lawyers would force prices to fall. The poor would benefit from the lower prices for non-criminal matters, and poor litigants, who might be unrepresented in criminal matters like hearings because they could not afford a lawyer and because of dwindling state legal aid, would be better off.

As a counter-argument, Jeoffrey Stone writes:

[L]egal education exposes would-be lawyers to a wide range of legal subjects — procedure, contracts, torts, criminal law, evidence, constitutional law, corporate law, property law, administrative law, jurisdiction, labor law, commercial law and on and on and on. This, too, is essential for the intelligent practice of law.

I would like to add one other important item: networking. By going to law school, you are exposed to the community of professors, lawyers, and other professionals in the field. As you start to get into the practice, this reach becomes invaluable.

Another scenario to imagine: suppose you hired a self-taught lawyer who bombs your case. You want to sue. So you end up hiring another lawyer who turns out to have insignificant experience (he was also self-taught). The whole situation could easily spiral out of control, with number of litigations skyrocketing. Sure, overall costs per case might decrease with self-taught lawyers. But do we really want to see the number of cases litigations rise (as they surely would) as a side effect? I surely don’t.

And a final food for thought: if we say that law schools are useless and that people could gain entry by being self-taught, what’s to prevent others clamoring for the barriers to entry to be disbarred in other professions? Would you want to go on an operating table with a doctor who didn’t go to medical school?

Surely I haven’t thought about all the implications here, but Winston’s idea seems short-sighted to me.

What are your thoughts?

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