Clifford Winston

After graduating from college, I had a job interview with Mars. The interviewer asked me, “If you could be a candy bar, which one would you be and why?” I was not prepared for such a difficult question. First, I had to try to recall which candy bars were manufactured by Mars. Second, deciding which candy bar was my favorite was like choosing a favorite child. After a little thought, I responded, “I would be a Twix bar because there are two of them.” In addition to making no sense, my answer revealed a personality flaw that is best not disclosed up front: I am indecisive. And I guess I have a split personality? Unsurprisingly, I did not get the job.

There are a few other issues, beyond choosing my favorite candy bar, that I have difficulty resolving. The issue du jour is whether or not it is worth getting more education to get a (better) job. And I am not just talking about a J.D., I am talking about the Small Business LLM from Concord Law School.

Concord Law School launched its Small Business LLM program in the fall of 2010. Designed to be completed part-time online in two years, the program offers hands-on practical education to equip practitioners or recent law grads with the skills needed to serve small business clients. Tuition is $600 per credit hour, or $14,400 for the program. While Concord does not offer scholarships, there are opportunities for students to obtain outside financial aid and private loans.

Is it worth it? Let’s discuss the pros and cons….

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Let a thousand law schools bloom?

Critics of the current legal-education model, including my colleague Elie Mystal, have accused the American Bar Association of failing to uphold sufficiently stringent accreditation standards. ABA-accredited law schools proliferate, even though thousands of law school graduates find themselves unemployed or underemployed.

The ABA was recently chided by the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity for various alleged deficiencies in the ABA’s exercise of its accreditation power (for example, failure to consider student-loan default rates in assessing programs). Politicians such as Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Charles Grassley (R-IA), and Tom Coburn (R-OK) have also raised questions about whether there are too many law schools and law school graduates, especially in light of the still-challenging legal job market.

In light of this debate, I was eager to attend a panel at the Federalist Society’s National Lawyers Convention on the subject of law school accreditation….

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Last week, Clifford Winston, drew up some controversy when he suggested that we do away with law school and bar exams and let anyone practice law. According to Winston, these barriers to entry “simply . . . protect lawyers from competition with non-lawyers and firms that are not lawyer-owned — competition that could reduce legal costs and give the public greater access to legal assistance.”

Elie was not convinced. Carolyn Elefant “pick[ed] apart Winston’s assertions piece by piece in an effort to diminish his credibility.” Both Elie and Elefant took issue with Winston’s assertion that costs would go down if non-lawyers were able to practice. Indeed, Elefant cited an example that using Legal Zoom could cost up to three or four times what it would cost a lawyer to perform the same task.

So who is right?

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Even a caveman needed to go to law school after he thawed out.

It’s the danger of working in a profession that few people respect. The general public understands that not everybody can practice medicine: performing surgeries, prescribing drugs, and even giving advice about surgeries and drugs are things best left to “professionals.” Or look at accountants. People want to have one who is “certified” because, well, math is hard.

But lawyers? Annoying, money grubbing, bastard lawyers? Hell, anybody can do that. That’s what the general public thinks: anybody who is anal and can read can be a lawyer.

And because of that, occasionally lawyers have to deal with op-eds like the one just featured in the New York Times. Clifford Winston of the Brookings Institution argues that everybody should be allowed to practice law.

Seriously, everybody. No law school, no bar exam, if you want to do legal work, go right ahead. If you want to charge people for your uneducated legal advice, feel free!

Somehow Winston believes that allowing untrained dumbasses to take advantage of poor people who don’t know any better will magically help poor people….

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