The problem, in short, is that at present ABA law schools are pumping out two graduates for every available legal job, and that the cost of acquiring what jobs there are has gotten far too high. No amount of pedagogical reform by itself is going to change that.
Predictably, legal academics have jumped all over the Paper of Record for the editorial's short-sightedness. Commenting on David Segal's article last week on the same subject, Larry Ribstein observes that an article he's written
Suggests that law schools should teach law students how to be architects and designers rather than mechanics. The lawyers of the future will focus, more than today’s lawyers, on the building blocks of law. Computers and non-lawyers will handle the mechanical tasks. Training lawyers demands the sort of theoretical perspective that Segal disdains. * * * The real problem * * * is not that law professors are teaching theory rather than the way to the courthouse, but that their choices of which theories to teach pay insufficient attention to the skills and knowledge today’s and tomorrow’s market demands.I agree with what I take to be one of Ribstein's implicit points here, which is that it doesn't make any economic sense to charge people $150,000 so that they can be licensed to perform routine tasks that can easily be outsourced to non-lawyers and even machines, and that an educational model based on doing so is unsustainable in the long run.
What this line of thinking doesn't acknowledge is that, to spin out Ribstein's metaphor, society (or if you prefer, "the market") doesn't need nearly as many architects and designers as it needs mechanics. The Carnegie Foundation/McCrate Report criticisms that appear every 15 years or so point out that law schools aren't very good at producing legal mechanics, which is true. Ribstein et. al. point out that, given the rapidly changing nature of the market for legal services, it's not an efficient use of social resources to dedicate three years of very expensive postgraduate education to producing legal mechanics, which is also true.
But does it follow from these criticisms that we ought to be trying to reconfigure law schools in their present form to produce 50,000 legal "architects and designers" per year, at an average cost, including opportunity costs, to these hypothetical proteges of the brave new legal world of more than $200,000 each? I don't think that follows at all (Of course all this assumes it would even be possible to restructure the American law school in such a way as to perform this impressive feat. As the old econ joke puts it, assume a can opener).
A more realistic goal, in my view, is to focus first on producing fewer lawyers per year at a much reduced cost. That goal requires less in the way of visionary speculation and more in the way of political will to face up to unpleasant facts.