"If the judges interpret the laws themselves, and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, [a shredded] shipman's hose!" - King James I of England, around 1616.

“No class of the community ought to be allowed freer scope in the expression or publication of opinions as to the capacity, impartiality or integrity of judges than members of the bar. They have the best opportunities of observing and forming a correct judgment. They are in constant attendance on the courts. Hundreds of those who are called on to vote never enter a court-house, or if they do, it is only at intervals as jurors, witnesses or parties. To say that an attorney can only act or speak on this subject under liability to be called to account and to be deprived of his profession and livelihood by the very judge or judges whom he may consider it his duty to attack and expose, is a position too monstrous to be entertained for a moment under our present system,” Justice Sharwood in Ex Parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa 220, 238-39 (1880).

“This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission. For this record shows that [the rejected attorney candidate] has many of the qualities that are needed in the American Bar. It shows not only that [the rejected attorney candidate] has followed a high moral, ethical and patriotic course in all of the activities of his life, but also that he combines these more common virtues with the uncommon virtue of courage to stand by his principles at any cost.

It is such men as these who have most greatly honored the profession of the law. The legal profession will lose much of its nobility and its glory if it is not constantly replenished with lawyers like these. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, time-serving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate and degrade it.” In Re Anastaplo, 18 Ill. 2d 182, 163 N.E.2d 429 (1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 968 (1960), affirmed over strong dissent, 366 U.S. 82 (1961), Justice Black, Chief Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan, dissenting.

" I do not believe that the practice of law is a "privilege" which empowers Government to deny lawyers their constitutional rights. The mere fact that a lawyer has important responsibilities in society does not require or even permit the State to deprive him of those protections of freedom set out in the Bill of Rights for the precise purpose of insuring the independence of the individual against the Government and those acting for the Government”. Lathrop v Donohue, 367 US 820 (1961), Justice Black, dissenting.

"The legal profession must take great care not to emulate the many occupational groups that have managed to convert licensure from a sharp weapon of public defense into blunt instrument of self-enrichment". Walter Gellhorn, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing", University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 44 Issue 1, September of 1976.

“Because the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action. This is, to be sure, against the popular will, but it is the very oath which he is alleged to have so indecently, cavalierly, baselessly and willfully violated for personal gain that requires this Court to find him immune from suit”, District Judge A. Richard Caputo in H.T., et al, v. Ciavarella, Jr, et al, Case No. 3:09-cv-00286-ARC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Document 336, page 18, November 20, 2009. This is about judges who were sentencing kids to juvenile detention for kickbacks.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Online law education is now good because there's not enough brick-and-mortar students?

In 2000 I started studying at an online law school, Concord Law School out of California.

The school disclosed that it is not accredited by the ABA, but indicated that it is in its plans.

I enrolled because I was curious about the law - being an immigrant wishing to know the law of my new country, and being a wife of a trial lawyer, to better help my husband in his law office as a legal assistant.

In 2001 9/11 happened, and I cancelled my plans to go to Los Angeles to take the "baby bar" - the 1st year law student examination for online schools that California required.  I had a newborn baby, there were threats of more attacks, and I did not want to risk separation from my family at such a time.

Yet, I went through 1.5 years of the school, and went successfully.

In 2005 I applied to Albany Law School and was admitted, with a merit scholarship.

I inquired whether my studies in Concord Law will be credit - and they weren't.

I had to repeat those courses I already took in Concord, which were no worse, and actually better than in Albany Law.

I would, of course, much prefer to go to an online school instead of a brick-and-mortar school, for many reasons.

I was an older student, not a fresh college graduate, and I had family obligations.

When I started attending law school in Albany Law, my older daughter started college, and I had two minor children at home needing me around.

I needed to be able to help my husband to handle the law practice (I was his legal assistant), and to help around the house and with the kids.  

His practice was large, busy and stressful, and he needed any help that could come his way.

I also very much wanted my young son to continue learning Russian - which I could not do at a distance from Albany (my son remained with my husband who did not speak Russian in Delhi, NY).

Therefore, online education would have suited me just fine, and having to live 89 miles away from my family, especially when separated with mountain roads covered with snow and ice, was a great sacrifice for everybody involved.

And, as I am learning now, an unnecessary sacrifice - because the reasoning that was advanced for not accrediting online education is going away now, merely because of a decline in enrollments in brick-and-mortar schools.

The reasoning advanced at the time I was denied credit for my previous studies at Concord Law was that American Bar Association does not believe the quality of online education will protect consumers as much as the quality of education in brick-and-mortar law schools.

There was no evidence to support that conclusion at that time, and one of the graduates of Concord Law, Ross Mitchell, my former classmate, has been admitted to the practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, not to mention federal district and appellate courts, so the education Concord Law gives is not bad at all.

Yet, ABA stubbornly refused accreditation to online law schools, which brings to the fore the question:

why a non-profit corporation is allowed to control how the entire huge country's government - in 50 states, 13 federal circuits with all included district courts - is licensing court representative for the American people?

And the question is even prominent because recently, 

  • after enrollments in brick-and-mortar schools started to decline and brick-and-mortar law schools are facing tough choices whether to cut their faculty since they cannot maintain their budgets with declined enrollments;
  • as a reaction to this purely economic, market event - lack of enrollment of students into brick-and-mortar law schools, the ABA suddenly changed its position as to online law school education and started to accredit online law schools.

As an example of that sudden change, recently, Syracuse School of Law in New York state announced that it is considering opening a partially-online J.D. program fully accredited by the American Bar Association.

So, what of quality of education?

What of protection of consumers?

Does that protection cede when law schools start losing money and look for wider "customer base" with cheaper products, a mere marketing survival tool?

Or was the prohibition on online law schools a measure based not on quality of education, but on stifling cheaper, more affordable and more accessible education, especially for people who live in rural areas (like I did) and had families and jobs to maintain (like I did)?

From the very beginning?

While, of course, I resent having my family to go through these sacrifices (not to mention a higher tuition than at an online school, since my merit scholarship did not cover the entire education - and the additional living costs that I wouldn't have had if I remained at home and went to an online school), the tendency to allow online law schools is actually good.

It will further increase competition among law schools.

It will further drop prices of law education.

It will make law education more affordable and accessible to people with less funds, and from remote areas for whom having to attend a brick-and-mortar school, especially with a prohibition to work for the 1st year - that is yet another ABA's anti-competitive invention - was a bar to receiving law education at all.

I hope that the next step should be to make education about law available to people at the high school level, and to make the law degree not an "advanced" degree, as it is now, but a regular college bachelor's degree, as it is in other countries - with no damage to quality of education.

That would eliminate the illogical structure of law education that exists in this country nowadays where a person needs to complete sometimes an unnecessary bachelor's degree, thus incurring additional student debt, as a condition precedent of being able to go to law school.

I hope that this pre-requisite is cut for the online law schools, and they start giving BA/JD diplomas, where legal education starts from the very first day of the BA program.

I hope also that legal education will be allowed to incorporate to a larger degree apprenticeships, because classroom learning without practical skills do not mean much.

In fact, apprenticeships should be allowed to take the majority or at least equal number of credit hours required toward getting a law degree, as learning theory.

But, returning to the topic of online law schools and ABA's change of heart regarding accreditation - control of the legal profession should be taken away BOTH from this non-profit corporation AND from the government.

Who people want to hire to represent them in court should be governed only by people's trust in that person - and by a power of attorney reflecting that trust.

That, and the word of mouth that, in the age of the Internet, will spread like wildfire, about good court representatives and bad court representatives alike - is all that is needed for consumer protection.

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