Monday, December 8, 2008

The Law Schools Role in Depriving the Public of Access to Lawyers

Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek. Barack Obama

In May 2005 Lloyd Cutler died at the age of 87. He served as White House counsel to Presidents Carter and Clinton. In 1962 he cofounded Wilmer Cutler & Pickering one of DC’s leading law firms which merged in 2004 with Boston’s Hale and Dorr. John Podesta , White House Chief of Staff during the Clinton administration said, “Lloyd was a giant in the legal community. In a town split by partisanship, he had enormous credibility and respect on both sides of the aisle. He founded and acted as cochairman of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

In 1980, he said

“The rich who pay our (lawyer) fees are less than 1% of our fellow citizens, but they get at least 95% of our time. The disadvantaged we serve for nothing are perhaps 20-25% of the population and get at most 5% of our time. The remaining 75% cannot afford to consult us and get virtually none of our time.”

The MacCrate Report (the chair of the committee was Robert MacCrate, former President of the American Bar Assocation 1987-88) stated that one of the four fundamental values of the legal profession required to be taught by law schools is

“Striving to Promote Justice, Fairness and Morality. … As a member of a profession that bears special responsibilities for the quality of justice, a lawyer should be committed to the values of: 2.1 Promoting Justice, Fairness and Morality in One’s Own Daily Practice;
2.2 Contributing to the Profession’s Fulfillment of its Responsibility to ensure that adequate legal services are provided to those who cannot afford to pay for them;
2.3 Contributing to the profession’s fulfillment of its responsibility to enhance the capacity of law and legal institutions to do justice.”

Is that still true today, improved or worse? If not substantially improved, I would argue that allowing the funneling of close to 95% of the graduates of any law school to take positions in large law firms (especially when most of them had no desire to embark on their careers in such places) is not only a violation of this fundamental value of the legal profession but is also unjust, unfair and immoral.

(Ask any law school who questions this assumption about the hopes and dreams of its students to show you the results of the surveys they took of their law students prior to registering, early in their first year and at frequent intervals after that – very few, if any, will have anything to show you.)

What is it about our society that allows such a perversion to continue year after year? Is this another issue of reform that we can look to be placed on the agenda of Barack Obama when he becomes President?

You should also read "Looking for Law in All the Wrong Places. Choosing the Best Law School" and the other articles at

This blog is sponsored by the Center for Professional Development in the Law

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