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What the world needs now

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If you guessed “another folk singer” you are incorrect.

James Shadid, a federal judge in Peoria, IL has a dream: He wants to start a new law school at Bradley University (h/t LSTB). Now the state of Illinois already has nine law schools, and indeed the University of Illinois itself is a mere 90 miles from Peoria. So it’s not as if kids who grow up on the shores of the Illinois River have to undertake a heroic quest to reach their long-cherished goal of attendance at an actual ABA-accredited law school: a fairly short drive down I-74 will do the trick.

But it’s true that Peoria itself (pop. 115,007) doesn’t have a law school yet. This troubles Judge Shadid, who graduated from Bradley 33 years ago, and John Marshall Law School shortly after that, and who exhibits severe symptoms of Baby Boomer Delusion Syndrome. It also troubles Gary Roberts, dean of Indiana University-Indianapolis’s law school, and another Bradley alum:

[Roberts] says the absence of a law school in Peoria means not just inconvenience for local would-be students, but added expense in that they have to pay room and board to study law. And whereas wage-earners in other, bigger cities can earn law degrees at night, that’s impossible in Peoria.

“There’s this large lacuna in the middle of Illinois where people can’t afford law school,” Roberts says. Roberts says the study showed that U of I law grads tend to head to Chicago or out of state, often to seek high-paying jobs, to better pay off massive tuition loans. But if tuition were kept relatively low at a Peoria law school, grads would be less beholden to big loans and more apt to seek work hereabouts, Roberts says.

This brings to mind a headline from America’s most trusted news source.

There’s a large lacuna in the middle of Dean Roberts’ analysis, namely any evidence that there are people ready, willing, and able to pay for legal services “hereabouts” who are having difficulty securing such services because of a shortage of lawyers in the greater Peoria metropolitan area. This hypothesis is implausible in the extreme.

Another gap in the data that needs filling is the answer to the question of how many people who live in or near Peoria aren’t going to law school because, if there were a law school in Peoria, the savings produced by not having to pay for room and board would convince them to do so. Let’s do a little math here. Approximately .1% of the US population lives within a 45-minute drive of downtown Peoria. Assume this population contains an average number of potential law students. This means about 45 people who live within commuting distance of our hypothetical law school enroll in all ABA law schools in America, combined, each year.

According to Roberts, the marginal value generated by Bradley’s law school would be generated largely by the fact that it would allow people who live within a reasonable drive of Peoria, who currently aren’t enrolling in law school because of cost considerations, to choose to enroll at a new law school in Peoria because they wouldn’t have to pay room and board. (Of course these people still have to incur expenses for room and board — what Roberts means is that they won’t have to borrow money for these expenses because they will be gifted to them by long-suffering parents, or shorter-suffering domestic partners).

On average, how many people per year are going to fit this description? Three. (This is an estimate. It might be five). So the theory is that these three people per year who aren’t going to law school now because of cost will go to this new law school where they won’t have to pay living expenses, and will subsequently get jobs as lawyers in or near Peoria, thereby ameliorating the lawyer shortage in the Peoria area.

The other justification for starting yet another law school is that this school will burst the shackles of Langdellian pedagogy, by sending its third year class off into the world of legal practice:

Instead of taking classes during the third and last year, students would be placed in legal settings – with private attorneys, with county prosecutors and public defenders, or with corporations’ legal teams – to assist on real cases.

I’m no expert but I suspect it’s illegal for students to work for private attorneys or corporations for free, and that it violates ABA rules to give academic credit for paid work. Beyond that, this innovative idea is of course merely a more elaborate version of the growing trend all across legal academia to turn the third year into an outsourced apprenticeship while still collecting another year of tuition.

Now for whatever reason I’m feeling optimistic this morning, and I doubt this proposed law school is actually going to come into being. What’s interesting to me are the motivations of people like Shadid and Roberts. They don’t appear to be in any position to profit from this school, at least in any pecuniary sense. (Indeed as a dean at competing law school Roberts’ straightforward economic interest, however tenuous, would be to oppose this project).

Rather I suspect their motivations are more benign, which in a sense makes those motivations more dangerous. What’s going on here, I think, is that these Bradley alums want their alma mater to benefit from the “prestige” of having a law school. The benefits they would get from this project are psychic, which makes it easier for them to interpret their own motivations as genuinely altruistic. They really believe they would be doing their university and its surrounding community a service by starting a law school.

This idea, which to those of us who have passed over to the other side of this implicit debate is obviously insane on its face, seems to them eminently sensible. After all, look how well things have worked out for them personally. In other words, they really believe their own propaganda, which is the mark of a fully internalized ideology. And people like that are way more dangerous than self-conscious scam artists, because they have moral righteousness on their side.

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