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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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  • Andrew

    I have never seen Cracker used as a pop culture reference.

  • ploeg

    I was going to guess “a new Frank Sinatra”.

    • azelie

      How about some true words of wisdom?

      • Sherm

        like la la la la la la la…

  • rea

    If they are going to insist on creating new law schools, they also ought to be lobbying the legislature to create new causes of action for people to sue each other over.

    • UberMitch

      Intentional interference with breakfast!
      Trespass to my Facebook timeline!
      Negligent infliction of boredom!

  • Sherm

    You linked to Take the Skinheads Bowling rather than Teen Angst.

  • Karate Bearfighter

    I was going to go with “love, sweet love”, but I guess “another law school” works, too.

  • IM

    But will it play in Peoria?

  • ajay

    Top marks to PC on this one, very entertaining.

    Another point: there are already 48 law firms in Peoria, according to Lawyers.com. Provo has 60 and Ann Arbor has 73, so I suppose it’s possible that Peoria is underlawyered, but not by a huge amount.

    • L2P

      There are 48 law firms in Peoria? Wow. If they aren’t mostly 2-attorney partnerships that seems like an extremely well-saturated market for 115,000 people.

      • ajay

        Well, if you look up Peoria on Lawyers.com you get 48 entries. But, yes, a lot of them seem to be fairly small. Two lawyers or fewer.

        There’s about 1.2 million active attorneys in the US as a whole, so you’d expect there to be (quick maths break) 470 in Peoria.

        That’s a lot. Maybe Peoria really is under-lawyered…

        • Barry Freed

          Quick, someone open a law school!

        • L2P

          500 attorneys? How many civil rights violations can Peoria do in a year?

          I’d bet there’s plenty of attorneys in Peoria. There’s whole practice areas that just don’t really exist in a city like Peoria because those cases are only going to come up once a year. Maybe. Once you get past about 100 attorneys there’s just not any work. You might have another 25-30 people who are realtor/lawyer/tax/wealth planning/insurance/whatever. They aren’t going to register on Lawyers.com.

          And it’s sooooooo close to other big cities. All the mid-sized firms (the big firms, too, if they’re desperate) are going to have “branch” offices that they staff every now and then for the bigger businesses. Any decent-sized bankruptcy and real estate and municipal and whatever case isn’t going to go local.

          It’s a tough market in small cities. You get eaten at both ends.

          • BigHank53

            You get eaten at both ends.

            Man, those bath salts are everywhere now.

        • spencer

          there are already 48 law firms in Peoria

          There’s about 1.2 million active attorneys in the US as a whole, so you’d expect there to be (quick maths break) 470 in Peoria.

          Are you perhaps conflating lawyers with law firms here?

        • Barry

          “That’s a lot. Maybe Peoria really is under-lawyered…”

          I imagine that places like NYC, DC, LA, etc. have a larger per-capita count.

        • John

          Does it make sense to expect attorneys to be evenly distributed?

          Firstly, criminal activity is not evenly distributed, so you’re going to need more criminal lawyers, per capita, in Chicago than you are in Peoria, because there’s more crime per capita in Chicago.

          But criminal lawyers, I suppose, are only a small percentage of total lawyers. But then you have corporate lawyers, who are surely going to be concentrated where corporations are, and corporations tend to be in major metro areas. So of course that’s going to tend to put disproportionate numbers of lawyers in major metro areas, as well. State capitals and Washington are going to have lots of lawyers working for the government – again, disproportionate. And the really huge firms with national/international clientele are all going to be based in New York.

          So I don’t see any reason to expect 470 lawyers in Peoria.

  • Just Dropping By

    I’m no expert but I suspect it’s illegal for students to work for private attorneys or corporations for free

    Why would it be illegal? I’ve certainly heard of people doing unpaid internships at private businesses before and, as we’ve previously established here, professional legal services are completely outside the scope of the FLSA.

    • spencer

      I think that perhaps requiring it for graduation might be what makes it illegal, but I am not a lawyer (thank Vishnu).

  • Murc

    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.

    Wait… what?

    I’m currently slogging my way part-time through a well-regarded technical institute in upstate NY. They require you to do two quarters of co-op work as part of nearly all degree paths; some degree paths they want three or four.

    You know what happens during those quarters? You work full-time, you get PAID for it, you get college credit, and they complete waive your tuition while simultaneously keeping you enrolled full-time.

    You know. Like people with souls who regard their students as more than checkbooks would do.

    I see real value in having people do a legal apprenticeships, but not in being unpaid peons.

    • Sherm

      RIT?

      • Murc

        Indeed.

        • Julian

          think about all the money that could be saved by not paying you

    • spencer

      I see real value in having people do a legal apprenticeships, but not in being unpaid peons.

      You’ll never become Dean of Bradley Law with that attitude!

  • Halloween Jack

    I live near Peoria, and can speak to this a bit. I don’t know how many attorneys practice in town, but one of the most prominent attorneys (as in, perennially buys the back cover of the phone book)is a personal-injury lawyer; probably not coincidentally, Peoria is also the world headquarters for Caterpillar. There also seem to be a lot of DUI lawyers, not surprising as Peoria used to be a big regional center for brewing and distilling and there’s still a big drinking culture.

    The more interesting thing about this to me is that Bradley University, which was previously known for being a decent, possibly underrated private school where people (like Shadid) went for a solid undergraduate degree before going on to law, medical or other grad school, seems to be trying to promote itself as a sort of graduate community college. They’ve got an “Executive MBA” program that brags about being “One of the shortest in the education industry” (only 15 months!), marketed at people who are already well-ensconced in their careers (it’s named after a recently-deceased doctor who was a graduate), and the proposed law school seems to be promoted as focusing on practical lawyerin’ instead o’ book-learnin’. What this will probably mean in reality will be that you’ll get a lot of local attorneys losing billable hours to 3L interns if they haven’t managed to get on the faculty, but for its boosters, apparently the more important point is that Forgottonia (which Peoria isn’t formally part of, but it shares a bit in that inferiority complex) will have its own law school.

  • Eric

    My family hails from Peoria and we recently settled the estate of my last grandparent who still lived there, so I have some familiarity on this topic. I can say with confidence that Peoria suffers no shortage of lawyers, but that it is drastically short on lawyers who are not unbearable overpriced assholes.

    • timb

      Hey, I resemble that remark

    • Pestilence

      just like the rest of the USA then?

  • cpinva

    hey,

    On average, how many people per year are going to fit this description? Three.

    one of those three could be the next abraham lincoln! or not. wait, he didn’t actually go to law school, he read law by candlelight, in between splitting logs and killing bars with his bare hands (i believe that’s currently known as an unpaid internship). ok, so we probably don’t need a 200 year old lawyer, with a crazy wife, running loose in peoria.

  • JoyfulA

    Why don’t they open a medical school instead?

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