During the ’90s, there was an alarming decline in enrollment at American law schools. I’m happy to report that the trend has been reversed — but for awhile there, many were worried for one of our greatest resources: our lawyers.
One of the causes of the drop in law school enrollment was the shrinking number of applicants. Seventy-six of the ABA’s 177 accredited law schools reported smaller incoming classes during the ’90s.
There are a number of factors cited as reasons for law schools reducing their enrollments. These include the strong economy, the attempt to lower student-faculty ratios, the efforts of corporations to reduce outside legal costs and the publication of this column. Whatever the reason, it was of great concern to lawyers and nonlawyers alike — and we can all breathe easier, knowing that enrollment is at last on the rise again.
The popular assumption is that if there are fewer lawyers, there will be fewer lawsuits, fewer regulations, fewer disagreeable personalities in our society and fewer reasons to pick up and move to another country. While these conclusions might be accurate, there would in fact be some disturbing long-term consequences should there be a permanent decrease in the number of new lawyers.
1. A Glut of Nonlawyers. What are all those people who would have otherwise attended law school going to do with their lives? They may have no place to go.
Most lawyers come from the ranks of those who don’t know what they want to do with their lives. They study sociology, for example, in college because it sounds like it will be fun and easy. Sometime around the end of the junior year, however, the student comes to realize that there isn’t a huge demand for sociologists out there in the job market. It’s about this same time when the student’s parents ask him what he intends to do with his life. To avoid the awkwardness associated with being unable to answer this question, most students put on the spot in this way respond with two words: “Law school!” The next thing the would-be sociologist knows, he’s taking the Law School Admissions Test and filling out law school applications.
Sure, it might be bad having too many lawyers. Do we, however, really want to live in a society with an oversupply of sociologists, historians and political scientists running around?
2. Off-hours television would be severely impacted. In those states allowing lawyers to promote themselves on television, weekday and late night TV advertisements are dominated by not-ready-for-primetime lawyers hawking their wares. If there are fewer law students — and thus, fewer lawyers — the face of daytime and late night television will be changed. Instead of viewers being convinced that they should sue for that paper cut suffered at their workplace or that a recent fender-bender can make them millionaires, they will be left to watch even more ads about technical schools and auto insurance.
3. One less thing to complain about. Reducing the number of lawyers would also have an adverse effect on complainers in this country. Those people who go around complaining that there are too many lawyers will no longer be able to complain that there are too many lawyers. If the overabundance of lawyers is eliminated, the number of things retirees, for example, have to complain about will be cut by half. Take away lawyers and these people will only have the government to blame for the ills of our society.
Retirees will not be the only people left with no one to blame. Lawyer-bashers would have fewer lawyers to bash. Manufacturers who are forced to go out of business would have to come up with something else on which to blame their failures. Those going through a divorce would have to direct all of their hostility toward their former spouses instead of their former spouses’ lawyers.
Most people have only bad things to say about lawyers. These same people, however, would miss us if we were gone. For this reason, you should encourage your alma mater to increase enrollment. And please, for the good of your country, if you are not a lawyer, enroll in law school immediately.
The Rodent is a syndicated columnist and author of “Explaining the Inexplicable: The Rodent’s Guide to Lawyers.” His e-mail address is [email protected].