Today is this blog's two-month anniversary. In that time it's generated about 275,000 page views and 4,500 comments, which are very modest numbers relative to many blogs, but which still represent a small but growing audience for an ongoing critique of contemporary American legal education from as it were the inside.
This seems like a good time for a summary of where things stand:
(1) The fight for transparency regarding employment outcomes has a very long way to go, but is making some progress. Many law faculty and even a few deans are at least now giving lip service to the idea that the numbers currently available to prospective students are very inadequate and even intentionally misleading, and that reform on this front is imperative (Continuing pressure from Sen. Boxer and Sen. Grassley will be critical going forward).
(2) The transparency debate is also beginning to highlight the pressing need for information on the employment status of law grads at points later than nine months after graduation. Given the rapidly changing nature of the employment market for attorneys, true transparency will include good information about what law graduates are doing five and ten years down the road, not just a few months after graduation. Gathering long-term data on statistically representative samples of graduates is neither particularly complex nor expensive -- it's merely a question of generating the political pressure to force law schools to do this.
(3) Transparency, important though it is, represents only a first step toward comprehensive reform. The fundamental problem with legal education now is that it is far more expensive than it needs to be. This would be true even if the job market were good. That it's become so bad at the same time that the cost of getting a law degree has skyrocketed merely puts an exclamation point on the long-standing pedagogic deficiencies of legal education, in terms of both edification and vocational training. Over the last 20 years legal education has gotten radically more expensive, while there's little evidence that it's gotten significantly better in terms of any student-centered standard of evaluation. The increased cost of legal education has benefited university budgets, law school administrators, and law faculty and staff to a much greater degree than it has benefited law students. (I'm sincerely curious whether anyone in legal academia is willing to challenge this assertion).
(4) There's tremendous inertial resistance inside the legal academy against recognizing any of this. On the one hand I've been quite heartened by the expressions of support I've gotten from various people within legal academia. On the other, it's extraordinarily difficult to get people to even acknowledge the possibility of serious structural problems within an institution that shapes their professional identities, let alone the possibility of genuine structural corruption. The latter possibility is routinely dismissed via the formula "I'm a good person doing my best to do a good job, as are most of my colleagues, ergo, it's impossible that a critique of legal academia as structurally corrupt could be true, since I'm a good person doing my best to do a good job." This reasoning features a major non sequitur: it's perfectly possible to be a "good person" inside a bad system, especially if one of the bad features of the system is its ability to allow "good people" to avoid ever confronting their actual situation.
(5) External events such as the Wall Street protests are some evidence that the smug complacency of the American financial and social elites may be coming under some real pressure. This is all to the good in regard to the prospects for reforming legal education. One of the consequences of long-term structural unemployment is that a lot of smart, energetic, and angry people have nothing to do all day. By churning out 25,000 law graduates every year who will never have real careers as attorneys, American law schools may be making their own unintended contribution to real social change.