Neil Gorsuch Picks A Fight With Law Schools

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Last night, Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch spoke at the 10th Circuit Bench and Bar Conference. A good deal of the coverage focused on the non-statement about the status of the investigation into the leak of the draft Dobbs decision — and Above the Law will have more on that later today. (Gorsuch hopes they’ll have a report “soon” but didn’t say if the results of the investigation will be made public — my take is if the leaker is liberal they’ll release it, if it’s a conservative source they will not.)

Anyway, as reported by the Wall Street Journal, Gorsuch also took on the state of legal education:

“That’s something we have to ask ourselves about: Does it really require seven years of collegiate education to become a competent lawyer?” said Justice Gorsuch, who holds a doctorate from England’s Oxford University as well as degrees from Columbia College and Harvard Law School. He suggested that many law students are compelled to study areas in which they have no intention to practice, such as securities litigation for someone aiming for criminal defense work.

Lawyers in the U.S. can graduate with $150,000 of law school debt on top of their undergraduate debt, he said, a financial burden that impairs their ability to perform public service and forces them to ratchet up legal fees.

The legal profession, he said, typically opposes efforts to reduce the cost of legal services by restricting who can perform them to licensed attorneys.

“Every time LegalZoom wants to go to a new state they get sued for unauthorized practice of law,” he said. “It’s never by a consumer; it’s always a lawyer” who files suit, he said. Inc. provides online tools for routine legal tasks such as incorporation of a business.

First of all, Gorsuch is far from the first legal luminary to throw his hat into the law school debate. Barack Obama said he thought that law school should only be two years long, seeing as how it both teaches you little about how to actually be a lawyer and, yes, costs a boat-ton of money. That’s been true for a lot of years (see, the 2013 date on the Obama story). But, seeing as the shitty legal reasoning of the not-particularly-experienced Aileen Cannon has been rightfully dragged recently, maybe NOW is not the moment to talk about less training.

Also, side note, let’s see how concerned about student debt Gorsuch really is when Biden’s debt forgiveness plan inevitably winds up before the Supreme Court.

Anyway, back to the law school debate proper, he seems very concerned that a wannabe criminal lawyer might have to take securities litigation (I guess white-collar crime isn’t really a crime after all). Part of the reason law students have to take so many classes not directly related to the area they intend to practice (besides the fact that some people are capable of changing their minds when exposed to new information) is the bar exam. That bitch is a generalist’s wet dream. Seriously, do you think that many people want to take Trusts & Estates? There’s an entire delicate ecosystem of special interests (law schools, prep courses, bar examiners) in attorney licensing, and unless he’s willing to take up the diploma privilege cause, well, this is the system we’ve got.

And we can avoid throwing out the baby with the fun, though expensive, time 3L year is. Like replacing the fascinating, yet not particularly practical, Law And The Smurfs with clinical experiences that actually train folks to be lawyers. Crazy concept, I know.

Kathryn Rubino is a Senior Editor at Above the Law, host of The Jabot podcast, and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. AtL tipsters are the best, so please connect with her. Feel free to email her with any tips, questions, or comments and follow her on Twitter (@Kathryn1).