I wrote a few weeks ago about how the high cost of law school is driving prospective lawyers away from the profession. Another recent opinion piece, by the dean of Massachusetts School of Law, raises another reason why we're facing a shortage of lawyers: the ABA's reluctance to accredit new law schools. This reluctance is particularly strong (and often mandated by the ABA's standards for law school accreditation) when schools deviate from tradition by allowing "too much" credit for experiential learning, or by relying too heavily on adjunct faculty who can share ongoing real world experience with their students, or by taking of advantage of virtual facilities that don't meet outdated requirements about the types of volumes required to be physically present in the library or the amount of space required for studying there.
Some people have asked why Responsive Law, which promotes alternatives to the use of lawyers, isn't rejoicing about a decrease in the number of lawyers. The truth is, even in an ideal system with a range of services available to meet the continuum of legal needs, lawyers will play an important role in providing legal services. The most complex legal issues are almost always best resolved by using a lawyer. And for simpler matters, even when alternatives are available, consumers may choose to use a lawyer because the lawyer provides a better set of skills for their particular problem. However, when the supply of lawyers is capped by the limited number of accredited law schools, the price of using a lawyer increases. And when the cost of a legal education increases, the rate that lawyers must charge increases. Allowing more people to become lawyers–and allowing non-lawyers to provide legal assistance–will give consumers of legal services the greatest range of options at the lowest possible price.