Attempts to reform American legal education feature both short-term and long-term goals. In this post I'm going to summarize my views on what the most important short-term goals are.
(1) Transparency regarding immediate post-graduation employment outcomes, i.e., what people are doing nine months after graduation. It can't be emphasized enough how misleading the information law schools advertise on this matter remains. Employment numbers need to make clear what percentage of graduates are working in positions that are
(a) Full-time; and
(b) Require a law degree; and
(C) is a particularly crucial factor that at present is extremely difficult to disentangle from the rest of the available information. NALP reports that 27% of all jobs filled by 2010 grads nine months after graduation are temporary. A third of these temp jobs are classified as clerkships of some sort, while 68% [!] of "academic" jobs were classified as temporary -- obviously most of these are positions invented by law schools for the purpose of fluffing up their employment stats. But NALP does not, as far as I've been able to determine, publish disaggregated figures that would make it possible to say precisely, even at a national let alone at an individual school level, how many graduates have real legal jobs, as opposed to part-time and/or temp work. Looking at the available figures, it's possible to ballpark the national figure as being in the neighborhood of 40% to 45%, assuming of course that the NALP figures themselves are accurate, which, given the methodology employed for collecting them (un-audited self-reporting) is a rather big assumption.
In particular, prospective law students need to be made aware that the salary data published by most schools is worse than useless. This is the area in which schools have engaged in the most egregious misrepresentations, publishing "medians" and "means" that include only a small minority of graduates, while making no effort to disclose that crucial caveat.
(2) Real information about longer-term employment outcomes. From a risk-reward perspective, prospective law students would be much better served by information about what graduates are doing five years after graduation, rather than nine months out. Five years out, most people who nine months after graduation were trying to piece together a legal career with fake as opposed to real legal jobs are going to have given up. At the more exalted end of the spectrum, a lot of people who got big firm jobs straight out of law school won't have them any more. As fragmentary as the information is about the class of 2010, we have practically none about the class of 2006, who entered the market during what in retrospect are considered boom times. How many 2006 grads are currently employed in full-time permanent jobs requiring a law degree, and how much are they being paid?
(3) Promoting a wider variety of models for legal education. Contrary to the impression some people have gotten, I've got nothing against a graduate school model for legal education per se. I think the Yale Law School is a fine thing -- I just re-read Arthur Leff's essay "Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law," which in my view has more value than 100 standard-issue doctrinal law review articles. What I don't think is a fine thing is the current extremely half-hearted attempt to maintain 200 Yale Law Schools. We don't need 200 Yale Law Schools, and indeed I doubt we need ten. The Yale Law School is a terrific institution for producing law professors, but we need 400 new law professors every year, not 45,000.
(4) Pursuing (3) in a serious way will make genuine cost control much more achievable. The current arms race, triggered by a generation's worth of nonsensical obsessions over "rankings," is a product of the obviously absurd notion that every ABA-accredited law school ought to pursue several to some extent contradictory goals, namely edification, legitimation, social sorting, and last and very much least, teaching people something about the practice of law. In other words law schools are supposed to be graduate schools, seminaries, prep schools, and vocational training facilities all at once. Accomplishing all four of these things simultaneously is probably impossible even in theory (for instance it's very difficult to critique the legal system in a serious way and legitimate it at the same time). What's not in question is that pursuing all these goals at once, as law schools must at least pretend to do, is fantastically inefficient and therefore far too expensive.