A doctor and a lawyer walk into a bar...

It can be said with certainty that the women’s rights movement in this country has resulted in many positive outcomes. We can vote (and drive, too; sorry, Saudi Arabia). We can go to college and professional schools. We can work just as hard as men and earn almost as much. Heck, we can even run for president. What could possibly be wrong with any of these things?

Supply and demand, that’s what.

As more and more women decided to pursue higher education and become members of learned professions like medicine and the law, professional schools had to figure out what to do with all of their new female applicants. Schools in both of these fields figured out solutions. Take a wild guess as to which profession botched the decision….

A recent blog post in the Chronicle of Higher Education suggests that law schools dropped the ball when it came to the massive influx of women into the profession. And they have pretty graphs to illustrate this fact.

The American Medical Association fielded the increase in female applicants by regulating the number of medical schools and keeping class sizes under control. Only a handful of new medical schools have opened since the 1980s, and class sizes have been maintained at a near constant since that time period.

The American Bar Association did just the opposite. Back in the day, only three percent of all lawyers were women. But as we all know, the ABA isn’t really a fan of regulation, so in order to accommodate all of the women hoping to enter the field of law, the organization allowed new law schools to throw open their doors all across the country. Instead of regulating class sizes, they just grew bigger, and bigger, and bigger.

So, what was the end result? Here’s what Kevin Carey thinks at Brainstorm for the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Big picture, I assume what this means is that the quality of doctors is increasing as the best women push out the least-qualified men over time, whereas in law the net increase in quality is still there but watered down by the overall expansion of law school and degree slots (although again on a per-capita basis it’s not that much growth.) The Saul Goodman‘s of the world can still get in, somewhere.

That sounds about right. For medical schools, more women meant more competition, and in turn, better doctors. For law schools, more women meant more lawyers — and more money — but mostly, more lawyers, times infinity.

Law schools didn’t use the influx of women as a way to cull the herd to allow only the best and brightest to enter the profession. Instead, they saw dollar signs.

Maybe some of these women had no business being in law school in the first place (ahem), but they were welcomed with open arms. And maybe some of these women really did belong in law school. But the world may never know about them because of the hordes of “meh” lawyers flooding our country. While it’s great that more women are in law school these days, the ABA’s solution to the “problem” wasn’t exactly the best one.

In the end, what we’re left with is the simple fact that you can’t live with us, and you can’t live without us. And you can’t have an oversupply of lawyers without us, either. Sorry about that.

Equality for Women = Better Doctors, More Lawyers? [Brainstorm / Chronicle of Higher Education]


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