[Andrew Morriss (guest-blogging), August 17, 2005 at 8:18am] Trackbacks
More on state support for legal education:

Commentators on my last post on state support for law schools offered some additional rationales I didn't include: 1) Having attorneys familiar with local law. 2) Contributing to a viable state legal culture. 3) Cronyism, patronage and institutionalized graft. 4) the library, at least, is a public resource. 5) providing a middle class subsidy. 6) making money for the university. 7) "pride in the great state school" as a benefit to residents. 8) assistance to the legislature and judiciary. 9) general externality of more education.

Some comments: 1) Local law knowledge: This is probably inversely related to the U.S. News ranking of the law school - the more prestigious the school, the less local it becomes. Moreover, funding a state-owned law school (which I am tempted to call the Stalinist mode of production, since it has the state owning the means of production) (which is akin to state ownership of an electric utility plant) - a commenter rightly criticized me for using the term Stalinist - is an inefficient means of doing this. Subsidizing only courses with primarily local content, and doing so at all law schools in the state, would be more efficient (although it would also be susceptible to faculty slacking by sneaking other content into the course, it doesn't seem worse in this regard than the slacking that occurs from just setting up a school generally). I can see an argument by the local judiciary and bar that they would like to see the state fund production of local legal knowledge. I don't see why that requires the state to own and operate a law school.

2) Local legal culture: Why (other than excluding lawyers from other states) do we want a local legal culture? If local legal culture means quirky ways of doing things, it is just a barrier to entry. If it means having relationships among members of the bar that promote good professional behavior, state law schools seem a really indirect way to achieve this, since we're spending a lot of money on people who don't stay in the state. Without being entirely tongue-in-cheek, it would probably be a more cost-effective means of producing that kind of bonding to send the local bar white water rafting for a few days each year than to run multiple state-owned law schools.

3) Cronyism, etc. An argument that explains but doesn't justify.

4) Library: a great point in 1950. Not so great now. A better use of state resources is a database of court opinions, statutes, regs, etc. available for free via the web. If more is needed, hiring some reference lawyer-librarians to help the public would enhance the service. A subsidy of print-oriented law libraries in fixed locations doesn't do most of the state's residents much good.

5) A subsidy for the middle class. An argument that explains but doesn't justify.

6) Making money for the university. An argument that explains but doesn't justify. State owned and subsidized businesses shouldn't be competing with private businesses. (Allowing public libraries to compete with businesses like Blockbuster and Netflix, for example, through DVD rentals is problemmatic too.) I am not sure this does explain it, however, since many state law schools undercharge the market rate. (That might be a subsidy for the faculty, who like the prestige of a higher ranked law school more than they like generating income for the university.)

7) "pride" as a benefit for residents. I suppose this exists, although presumably the football program ranks higher as something the public demands. Is this important enough to justify creating (UNLV is a recent example) and maintaining state law schools? I am very dubious about that.

8) Helping out the legislature and judiciary. Good point, although both branches of government have legal staffs (law clerks, staff attorneys, etc.) Again, no need to own the means of production, however, to secure this. Law professors can be hired for specific projects and drawing on a national pool would give the state more to choose from. Perhaps there is some value to having legal academics in a state, to offer free-lance critiques. I'd like to see some evidence of those critiques having a beneficial influence before I accept that as an argument. And, since most states have multiple private law schools, it isn't clear why the state needs to own more.

9) Education is good generally. True enough. But owning the means of production still seems to be an inefficient way to get it (more principal-agent problems, etc.)

Finally, Frank Cross raises a really interesting point about transition costs. I'm going to have to think about that one - perhaps the justifications to support creating state law schools existed in 1890 but no longer do. Does that mean we should close them now? More thought is definitely required on how to respond to that.

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