Patient “Law School” arrived at the emergency room complaining of a financially bloated, gangrenous third-year appendage that has grown weak from lack of use and failure to adapt to changing circumstances.
President Obama, offspring of and a former caretaker (law professor) for the patient, advocates amputation of the appendage: “Law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years.” The president added that if patient “thought creatively,” it could “maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain [itself] without the third year.”
I disagree with the president that amputation is the best treatment for the limb. Instead, I would prescribe financial therapy and innovation rehabilitation.
Amputation is a short-sighted solution that will relieve the patient’s discomfort with and social stigma stemming from the appendage now. However, amputation will not address the patient’s underlying conditions, such as poor financial hygiene and failure or unwillingness to adapt to changing circumstances. Further, amputation wastes an opportunity to try to save the limb and make it useful again through rehabilitation. Finally, I believe there are good reasons to amputate — only as a last resort — that go beyond those that are strictly treatment-based.
Treatment Plan — Step One: Financial Therapy
The most immediate need is to relieve the financial pressure from the third-year appendage. The pressure is the result of patient being too focused on validations of its well-being from others, such as the ABA or US News and World Report.
Financial therapy can discourage patient from relying entirely upon third parties to validate its financial well-being. Counseling will help patient develop a healthy financial self-image, so that patient makes financial decisions that are best for it, its offspring, and the general public.
If appropriate, a counselor could encourage patient to embrace and support new accreditation standards that emphasize whole-patient financial health. Specifically, recent proposed changes to the ABA accreditation standards modify or eliminate the costly faculty tenure system. These proposals also limit library size requirements and other similar standards, which distort patient’s financial health and can be eliminated without significant harm.
Treatment Plan — Step Two: Innovation Rehabilitation
Innovation rehab will enhance financial therapy by helping patient to identify new or overlooked opportunities to earn money. For example, patient might benefit from an experimental treatment like Oregon’s new pay-it-forward tuition plan. Patient could also explore earning tuition through emerging limited license legal technician programs.
Additionally, innovation rehab can help patient learn to adapt its third-year appendage to its new situation. Patient has already begun to take steps, albeit very small ones, in this direction. Examples include programs at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, Chicago-Kent College of Law, CUNY School of Law, and Touro Law Center, that incubate law practices or clinics in their schools. Patient has also considered developing and utilizing a residency model. This type of treatment has been effective for patient Medical School and patient Dental School.
Additional Notes Regarding Treatment: Amputation as a Last Resort
Beyond the treatment-based reasons discussed above, there are other good reasons to apply rehabilitation and therapy first, and to amputate the third-year appendage only as a drastic last resort.
- Absent changes brought about by therapy and rehab, patient may not survive amputation.
- Amputation may not prevent the condition afflicting the third-year appendage from spreading to patient’s entire body. Therapy and rehab, on the other hand, may be able to stop it.
- Despite its gangrenous, repulsive condition, patient law school’s third-year appendage serves some limited functions, including externships, law review collaboration between second- and third-year students, and the opportunity for its offspring to specialize more deeply. Premature amputation would eliminate these benefits.
- Patient’s overall condition and healthcare needs are much closer to those of patient Medical School and patient Dental School. As a result, the third-year appendage serves a key public interest by helping to ensure that patient’s offspring are well prepared to serve the public as lawyers.
- Even in the event of amputation, patient’s two-year-law-school offspring will still be burdened by significant (though less) debt and will lack practice-ready skills to enable them to pay that debt back and to properly serve the public.
It is possible that the third-year appendage can be safely and appropriately amputated at a later time. However, patient Law School must first address fundamental issues such as its struggling financial model, its ignorance of or willful blindness to advances and research in educational theory, and its failure to adapt to its surrounding environment.
Amputation of patient Law School’s infected, apparently needless third appendage may seem like a good idea at first glance, but it’s not — at least not right now. While I couldn’t agree more with President Obama’s direction that patient and its caregivers must think “creatively” to restore the patient to full health, we can and must be more creative than simply amputating the third year and calling it good.